Business and Economy Environment and Natural Resources News Transparency and Elections

Federal Flood Money Flowing In

The typical flood victim will collect $5,000 to $10,000 in federal aid to help put their lives back together, even if the damage extends by thousands of dollars beyond that.

Those who qualify can also apply for loans, although that money will have to be paid back.

“In many cases, it gets people back into their homes,” Eugene Brezany, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency said last week. “So at least they’ve got a roof over their heads and knifes, forks and spoons in the kitchen drawer. But it’s pretty bare bones,” he said.

Residents in more than half of the 52 soggy counties slammed with a storm that triggered floods earlier this month are now eligible to register with FEMA, officially signing up for an inspection of their home or damaged property in order to calculate how much recovery grant money, if any, they qualify for from the federal government.

Residents in counties not yet named disaster areas will have to wait until their area is called before applying.

It can take days or weeks for a FEMA representative to survey a property to determine the total damage. Once the inspection is over, money to help repair leaky basements, replace soggy carpets and replace goods that were soaked in flood waters could take few weeks to arrive, Brezany said.

The federal aid is aimed at those who lacked insurance to cover their flood and storm damages. FEMA says those who were insured are still encouraged to register because there may be other damages not included in the initial settlement.

Residents have several options to dealing with their flood damage. In addition to the grant money, they can also apply for low interest loans with the Small Business Administration or a private company.

Eligible residents can apply for up to a $200,000 loan from the federal government at a 2.75 percent interest rate. Individuals can tack on up to $40,000 more to address personal property, such as vehicles.

But it’s no blank check, said Jelani Miller, a spokesman for the Small Business Administration, adding that each dollar must be spent addressing issues related to the storm and flood. While someone might be replacing a water-damaged TV, they are not supposed to use that money buy an entertainment system.

The same goes for low-interest federal business loans, which allow a company to borrow up to $2 million at 4 percent interest.

Some private banks also offer disaster related loans which can be used more freely than the government money.

Press Releases

More Federal Relief for TN Farmers

State of Tennessee press release, Jan 22, 2010:

Bredesen Announces Federal Farm Assistance for Five Counties

21 Counties Now Qualify as Primary Natural Disaster Designation

NASHVILLE – Governor Phil Bredesen today announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved his request for federal farm assistance for five additional Tennessee counties due to excessive rain and flooding that occurred in September and October.

“The 2009 growing season was certainly unpredictable and challenging for many of our state’s farmers. This disaster designation will be important for helping those who experienced significant crop losses during last year’s unusually wet harvest,” said Bredesen. “I’m pleased that USDA has responded so promptly to my request.”

Bredesen made the request in a Dec. 11 letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The five counties designated as primary natural disaster areas include: Claiborne, Cocke, Rutherford, Sevier and Union.

The designation makes farmers in these counties eligible to apply for assistance, including emergency loans and supplemental farm payments, through their local USDA Farm Service Agency. Also qualifying as secondary, adjoining disaster counties are: Anderson, Bedford, Blount, Campbell, Cannon, Coffee, Davidson, Grainger, Greene, Hamblen, Hancock, Jefferson, Knox, Marshall and Williamson.

With today’s announcement, a total of 21 Tennessee counties have qualified for a primary natural disaster designation due to excessive rain during the 2009 harvest. Last month, USDA named 16 other counties as primary natural disasters including: Bradley, Chester, Cumberland, Hamilton, Hardeman, Lauderdale, Macon, McMinn, McNairy, Meigs, Polk, Rhea, Shelby, Smith, Trousdale and Wilson.

Farmers in affected counties reported crop losses ranging from 20 to 50 percent for major crops including corn, soybeans, cotton and tobacco. Some counties reported receiving record rainfall of as much as 10 to 12 inches during what are normally the driest months of the year.

USDA projected significantly higher yields in 2009 for most major Tennessee crops as compared to the previous two drought years; however, heavy rains hurt both crop yields and quality because of rotting, mold and other disease problems. Farmers also reported losses for hay, pumpkins and other specialty crops.

Statewide, the 2009 harvest was three to four weeks behind the five-year average due to the unusually wet weather according to the Tennessee Field Office of USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. For the latest information on the 2009 crop harvest, visit