SOMERSET—State and federal disaster assistance payments are bringing needed financial help to homeowners, renters and business owners who suffered damages in the severe storms and flooding of mid-March.
However, those payments come with some words of advice from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA): Be cautious, use the funds wisely and only for their intended purpose.
To date, nearly $9 million in recovery assistance has been approved for residents of Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Passaic, Somerset and Union counties.
“Flood survivors should only use these grants to meet specific disaster-related needs,” said FEMA’s Federal Coordinating Officer William L. Vogel. “If the applicant spends the money on anything other than the intended purpose, no additional assistance may be granted if the need arises in the future.”
Housing Assistance grants are intended for one of three uses only: for basic housing repairs, short-term rental assistance or reimbursement of hotel/motel expenses.
Other Needs Assistance grants are intended to help replace essential personal property and meet medical, dental, funeral, transportation and other serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance or other federal, state and charitable-aid programs.
Most funds are deposited electronically, and a letter explaining what they are to be used for follows in the mail.
Officials from the New Jersey State Emergency Management Office and FEMA offer the following tips to help flood survivors get the most out of their personal disaster recovery payment:
If you receive your grant in the form of a check, make sure to deposit it promptly – Do not cash it!
- Be tempted to pay household bills.
- Make purchases unrelated to needs created by the disaster.
- Use the funds for travel.
All expenditures must be disaster/related. If the grant money is not used as outlined in the letter, a recipient may have to pay it back and may lose eligibility for any further help.
Grants are subject to an audit. Recipients are strongly encouraged to fully document their disaster-related expenses. They must keep receipts or bills for three years to demonstrate how all of the money was used in meeting disaster-related needs.
It is important to note that grants are tax-free and are not a loan. They do not have to be repaid. They are not counted as income for welfare or other federal benefit programs and they cannot be garnished.
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