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Cook County Residents Get $200 Million in Federal Flood Relief for Summer Rainstorms

Some of the Cook County residents who were hardest hit by flooding say the FEMA grants aren’t enough to cover their damages.

More than $200 million in federal flood relief has been awarded to thousands of Cook County residents whose homes flooded earlier this summer.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency relief grants for homeowners and renters in Cook County were approved after President Joe Biden signed a federal disaster declaration in response to the damage wrought by record-setting rainstorms from June 29 through July 2.

The money can go toward expenses that aren’t covered by insurance, such as home repairs, temporary housing assistance and moving or storage expenses.

As of Monday, more than 60,000 applications have been approved since the application period opened on Aug. 15, according to FEMA’s website.

The deadline to apply for assistance is Oct. 16.

The amount of FEMA assistance granted for this summer’s flooding is the second-highest amount of aid provided for individual households in a federally declared disaster in Illinois since 2003, the earliest year for which data was available, according to a WBEZ analysis.

In 2010, the total aid amount granted topped $370 million after severe storms in late July and early August caused widespread flooding across multiple counties statewide.

Despite the millions of dollars in assistance granted countywide this year, for those who were hardest hit, the FEMA relief has been far from enough. Many are still in the throes of recovery from this summer’s floods.

“It was a disaster like one we had never seen before,” said Ald. Emma Mitts, 37th, whose own home repairs cost her roughly $40,000.

Mitts knows of several dozen constituents who still have mold in their homes and who are looking for contractors to provide estimates for repairs and clean up.

“I don’t think the financial relief that FEMA brought stands up to the amount of damage that was sustained by many of the residents,” said Ald. Chris Taliaferro, 29th.

After an applicant registers and is deemed qualified for assistance, FEMA completes a home inspection. Afterwards, the agency sends a letter with the exact amount of aid for which the applicant is eligible, said FEMA media relations specialist Larissa Hale.

Out of all approved applications, the average amount awarded was about $3,400, according to a WBEZ analysis.

“When you look at hot water heaters, furnaces, drywall, remediating mold, loss of other properties, washers, dryers, the average family probably sustained damage in the amount of $15,000 to $20,000,” said Taliaferro.

That was the case for Austin resident Trish Green, who hasn’t had a working furnace since her basement flooded with three feet of sewage water in July.

Green received roughly $3,000 in FEMA relief, but the cost to replace her furnace alone is $14,000. She’s had to use a space heater to keep warm with the recent dip in temperatures.

Green said the federal aid she received took too long to arrive. Many of her neighbors are seniors with disabilities who’ve had to live without hot water for months.

“I went to a community meeting, and it was very heartbreaking, really, because there are a lot of people, you know, that are less fortunate than myself, where they lost everything, meaning they’ve been bathing with cold water,” said Green.

Portage Park resident Kindy Kruller, whose basement flooded in July’s rainstorm, received nearly $2,000 from FEMA as a direct deposit in her bank account.

Kruller said it’s not enough to fully flood-proof her basement, which has flooded four times over the past two years.

“I still have this issue, but at least it’s something, right, and it’s a recognition,” Kruller said.

Both Kruller and Green were also referred to apply for a low-interest loan, offered through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in partnership with FEMA, to pay the remainder of their recovery costs not covered by FEMA’s grant. The SBA loans are open to homeowners and renters, not just business owners.

But many flood victims are low income or on fixed incomes and can’t pay back thousands of dollars in loans, said Taliaferro. About 60% of the aid went to Cook County households with incomes less than $60,000, according to a WBEZ analysis of FEMA data on the individuals and households program.

“The problem is, you’re already in a lower income community and a more underserved community and, unfortunately, many people are not in a position to even take out a loan, whether it’s low interest or no interest — it still has to be paid back,” said Taliaferro.

Source : WBEZ