COLUMBIA, S.C. — In nearly every major disaster, as recovery efforts move into their final stages, rumors and misinformation find their way onto social networks and elsewhere. Hurricane Matthew is no different. Survivors with questions about the recovery in South Carolina should be wary of what they may read or hear. Always ask for clarification from official sources.
Straight answers and plain facts are available from Federal Emergency Management Agency experts on FEMA's Help Line. Call 800 621-3362 (voice, 711, video services) or 800-462-7585 (TTY). Or visit DisasterAssistance.gov.
Here are some common rumors you may have already heard:
RUMOR: If survivors receive FEMA assistance, it could reduce their Social Security benefits.
FACT: Disaster assistance does not count as income. FEMA assistance will not affect Social Security, Medicare or other federal and state benefits.
RUMOR: If you receive money from FEMA you have to pay it back.
FACT: FEMA grants do not have to be repaid.
RUMOR: Receiving a letter from FEMA stating the applicant is not eligible means the person will not get any assistance.
FACT: Receiving such a letter does not necessarily mean an applicant is not eligible for disaster aid, even when the letter states "ineligible" or "incomplete." It can be an indication that further information is needed, or that the applicant's insurance claim needs to be settled before disaster aid can be granted.
RUMOR: If you take FEMA assistance, they take your property.
FACT: FEMA has no authority to take property of any kind from anyone.
Appealing FEMA's Decision
RUMOR: Once FEMA determines that you are not eligible for assistance there is nothing you can do.
FACT: Every homeowner and renter has the right to appeal FEMA's determination decision. The first step in appealing the decision is reading your determination letter carefully. Sometimes FEMA just needs additional information. There may be issues with your application that can be resolved quickly and easily, enabling you to receive assistance.
RUMOR: You cannot get help from FEMA if your determination letter says that you are not eligible because you have insurance.
FACT: If your insurance coverage is insufficient to make essential home repairs, provide a place to stay or replace certain contents, FEMA can reconsider you. But you must provide documents from your insurance company that detail your settlement. Contact your insurance company if you need settlement documents and then provide that information to FEMA.
RUMOR: If you inherited your home and have lived there for years, but do not have the deed, you cannot receive assistance.
FACT: There are other documents besides a deed you can submit to prove home ownership, including mortgage, insurance documents or tax receipts. If you do not have a deed handy, speak to your local officials about obtaining a copy.
How to file an appeal
If you decide to appeal FEMA's decision, your appeal must be in writing and must be received within 60 days of the date on your FEMA determination letter. You may file your appeal documents by fax at 800-827-8112, or by mail to: FEMA National Processing Service Center, P.O. Box 10055, Hyattsville, MD 20782-7055.
RUMOR: People can donate money or items to FEMA to help flood victims.
FACT: Not true. FEMA does not accept donations of any kind. However, many legitimate organizations need donations. In South Carolina, the "One SC Fund" supports and directs funds to nonprofit organizations providing disaster relief and recovery assistance. For more information, visit yourfoundation.org/community-impact/one-sc-fund-sc-flood-relief/.
Survivors continuing to need help recovering from Hurricane Matthew, or are in need of food or clothing, should call 2-1-1 for assistance.
U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)
RUMOR: Only businesses can get low-interest disaster loans from SBA.
FACT: SBA low-interest disaster loans are available to homeowners and renters, as well as businesses of all sizes (including landlords) and private nonprofit organizations, for disaster damages not fully covered by insurance or other compensation.
RUMOR: If you complete an SBA loan application, you have to take out a loan.
FACT: You are not obligated to accept a loan if you do not want one. However, if you are referred to SBA for a disaster loan application you should complete and return it. If the SBA is unable to approve a home loan, you may be referred back to FEMA for other needs assistance. You may be eligible for assistance that covers personal property, vehicle repair or replacement, and moving and storage
expenses. SBA low-interest disaster loans are available to homeowners and renters, as well as businesses of all sizes (including landlords) and private nonprofit organizations, for disaster damages not fully covered by insurance or other compensation.
Hurricane Matthew survivors should visit fema.gov/disaster/4286 or the South Carolina Emergency Management Division at scemd.org/recovery-section/ia to learn about
FEMA assistance and other useful recovery information. You may get information about the recovery from friends, neighbors, family members, or others that is wrong. Help yourself and others by checking it out on the website.
All FEMA disaster assistance will be provided without discrimination on the grounds of race, color, sex (including sexual harassment), religion, national origin, age, disability, limited English proficiency, economic status, or retaliation. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at 800-621-FEMA (3362). If you have a speech disability or hearing loss and use a TTY, call 800-462-7585 directly; if you use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 800-621-3362.
FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards. Follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/femaregion4 and the FEMA Blog at http://blog.fema.gov.