A meeting was recently held with members of the Weakley County Long Term Recovery Group to receive clarification and comments on information that may have left members of the public confused. Joyce Washington and Justin Crice were in attendance to field questions and respond to potential concerns.
Why does the Long Term Recovery Group use financial information from tornado victims to make decisions on receiving donation money?
“The process is that; it is part of the vetting to make sure they are not duplicate allocations of funds for the same things. Red Cross was for imminent needs, but if you received Red Cross money, FEMA money, if you got an SBA loan and insurance … we want to make sure that if insurance paid for a roof for example, then we aren’t going to pay for a roof because it was paid for. That is how, that is only for the purpose of understanding how funds were spent so there is not a duplication. Now it is possible that because the pricing of shingles and lumber, they thought they had, say $15,000 I’m throwing a number out there, for roofing isn’t going to be enough of the labor cost and insurance and they maxed out their policy. That is a conversation with a case manager. I think we could understand why they know need more money… So that’s how and that’s why. So that we are not paying for things twice and Long Term Recovery money is supposed to be last dollar, that you have exhausted all of the funds you could get because this money is intended to go as far as it can. In fact, we may even be trying to raise more money so everyone can start recovery,” Washington explained.
SBA Loans and FEMA
It was suggested the FEMA appeal process may be taking weeks or even months and SBA loans were apparently being offered at high interest rates that some families could not afford. If families did not exhaust the FEMA process and they gave up or did not take an SBA loan, would it hurt them getting donation money and put them lower on a list to receive funds from the Long Term Recovery Group?
“They need to get that now if that is what it is going to be,” Washington stated.
Crice said he was not aware of this putting people lower on a list. He said that the case manager is supposed to help families through the FEMA or SBA process to make it easier for them.
“Because of the appeal process, we had a lot of people come in the beginning, at the end of March, beginning of April, who thought they had been denied and they were not; they were requested to provide additional information. And people were frustrated by that, but that is the process to work through the system to get the money that they are entitled to, because that is where all of FEMA’s monies are from – grants.”
Washington said she did not know anything about the SBA loans or their interest rates. The comment was made that some survivors were presented with large interest rates they could not afford.
Crice responded, saying he saw interest rates that were not over 5 percent, noting a document that read, “Interest rates are as low as 2.830 percent for businesses, 1.875 percent for nonprofit organizations, and 1.438 percent for homeowners and renters, with terms up to 30 years. Loan amounts and terms are set by the SBA and are based on each applicant’s financial condition.”
Jasmine Williams with the Dresden Enterprise asked if the SBA loan was still being used as a qualification to be higher on a list to receive money from the Long Term Recovery Group.
“No, you just have to go, you just have to apply, you don’t have to accept it. Not accepting it, the SBA loan, is not a problem. But if you can accept it and it’s not break the bank, then it might be a good thing to consider that. And we have heard from two people who have come into the center saying they have been told they had to accept the whole thing,” Washington said.
When asked to provide clarification regarding if an SBA loan needed to be taken by a tornado survivor in order to be higher on the list to receive donation money, Washington said, “This I my understanding, and I have talked to someone who received a loan in another storm and what she told me in her personal experience. She was approved for an amount. She did not need that much. She came back and requested a lower amount and that lowered her payments. The two families who came into the center, we are currently trying to connect them to, I don’t know this man’s role, but he is SBA, for lack of a better word, let’s call him a manager of some kind who can explain to them how it works. But again, that is my understanding and has been my understanding and I have spoken with someone who had personal experience who said you do not have accept the full amount … Whatever amount you take drives your payment amount.”
It was asked where families who did not take the loan and did not exhaust every avenue offered are placed with the Long Term Recovery Group.
“They will go through the process. Now, where they will fall, I don’t know.” Washington said.
“I learned this from Mike Carroll, who said that they (FEMA) tell you in your (determination) letters how much time they have for your appeals. So, there is a time limit on your appeals. We have helped people; Karen has helped people. We help people with their appeal process if they would come into the center.” Joyce
“So will there be people who fall through the cracks and not receive money,” Williams asked.
Crice responded, “We are working to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“That is why we may have to raise extra funds … That is why we use long term recovery money to repair houses, that sort of thing, and not fences.”
“I think your question was more whether or not someone might miss the long term recovery group completely, having not applied for any FEMA assistance or SBA assistance.”
“I think it depends as what you are defining as help” Joyce
“Will the money that was donated go towards these families,” Williams asked.
“I think in an equitable sense. You know what equity looks like; you look at the apple tree. Someone’s who’s sitting here will need a little more help than someone sitting over here … I think people will be able to access these funds if they pay attention to the case management process. Case managers would have made contact with FEMA and Red Cross and gathered that information. So that is going to be key, them contacting survivors,” Crice responded.
Washington also stated that it will be a long finish before recovery is over and some (survivors) may be fine now and need help from the center months from now. That it can be a frustrating and long process.
When asked what if families are frustrated by the process and give up on the Long Term Recovery Group, Washington responded with, “We hope they don’t and if they need help to not give up. That is why we have an emotional support chair to give families assistance, so they do not give up.”
“What I can tell you about other communities, specifically Mayfield. They had huge fundraisers and that is something that has not been done here. You had GoFundMe (pages) and they did a statewide fundraiser,” Crice said. “So that may be something that we may do in the future. We would need the press help with that in the future.”
It was also brought up a person who is still waiting on a case worker and Washington said she tells people to call her so that they can be provided the correct information regarding what they need to have ready to bring and be able to ensure that they are on the right track with the Long Term Recovery Group.
Survivors Advocacy Meetings are supposed to be a bit removed from the Long Term Recovery as they would be a survivor leading who has gone through the process and could help guide others through it and to help survivors have a voice with the Long Term Recovery Group. The meeting was intended for only survivors of the tornado to attend and not for members of the Long Term Recovery group to attend so that survivors feel comfortable to speak openly about issues and concerns.
Washington said, “This survivor’s group is really something I pushed that I thought was important. To have someone who went through it and is coming through and that is why we asked Mike (Carroll). He went through, is coming through it and going through the processes. We shared with him the idea that survivors could have had struggles collectively and we could address them individually or as a community and it sounds that is not what is happening. There needs to be more structure. Again, we, I, divorced myself because I did not want people to feel it was just an extension and people couldn’t talk freely about whatever they are feeling … We can hopefully salvage this idea and work better with them and the community with the recovery.”
Another topic discussed was clarification regarding the Martin Business Association and Be the Village and the money they raised that is not being directly handled through the Long Term Recovery Group. Washington stated that this group wanted their money to go towards small businesses, while the Long Term Recovery deals more with individuals. The Long Term Recovery Group and United Way are creating a process for the Martin Business Association to bring businesses through.
“MBA is working in coordination with United Way to distribute our funds. There are some things UW is working through to make this happen. It’s been a long process, but we are almost there. Sometimes, things that one would think are seemingly easy are really quite difficult. We just want to be sure this (less than) $20,000 is accounted for and distributed fairly to affected businesses in Dresden,” Martin Community Development Director Brad Thompson shared.
She said that when they had more information, press releases would be shared with the public for businesses to receive funds.
They stated they did not know how much money Be the Village had received and that it was her (Sandra Taylor) decision if she wanted to participate with the Long Term Recovery Group.
The Weakley County Long Term Recovery Group can be found on Facebook and on its website at rebuildweakley.com. Comments and questions can be made through the website or by calling 731-699-7913. If no answer, please leave a message. The Recovery Center is located at 8250 Highway 22, Dresden, TN 38225. Volunteers are available in the Center Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., with these hours subject to change as the community needs.
Weakley County Long Term Recovery Group members are Justin Crice, Co-Chair; Alisha Melton, Co-Chair; Joyce Washington, Secretary; Sherryl McCulley, Treasurer; Karen Wilson, Volunteer Coordinator; Tommy Wilson, Construction Coordinator; Bobby Goode, Donations Coordinator; Will Norrid, Spiritual/Emotional Needs; and Mike Carroll, Survivors Advisory Committee Chair. Ex-Officio Members (non-voting members of the board) are Jeff Washburn, City of Dresden Mayor; Jake Bynum, Weakley County Mayor; Jason Hypes, EMS Representative; Robert Craig, UMCOR Consultant; Elizabeth Soard, UMCOR Case Management Supervisor; Matt Marshall, United Way of West TN Director; Megan Houston, United Way of West TN Rep; Yvonne Antonio-Wilson, FEMA Consultant; and Alayne Chapman, American Red Cross Consultant.