Individual Assistance Helps Communities to Help Themselves

Author: Brian R. Haines

After the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred dropped several inches of rain in Western North Carolina, record flooding occurred along the Pigeon River resulting in six fatalities. The storm is estimated to have caused $18.7 million in damage to public infrastructure, and 11 counties have been approved for FEMA Public Assistance.

Three of those counties – Buncombe, Haywood and Transylvania -- also received Individual Assistance. Fifty-six homes were destroyed, and more than 200 received major damage. Registration for Individual Assistance closed on Nov. 8, and as of Nov. 9, more than 670 eligible applicants in those three counties have been approved for over $3.18 million in FEMA assistance. The Small Business Administration (SBA) provided $2.92 million in low-interest disaster loans for 74 applicants and the National Flood Insurance Program paid $11.8 million in claims to policyholders.

The approval of Individual Assistance after a natural or manmade disaster provides those eligible people and households that may be under insured, or uninsured, in the affected communities financial and direct services, through FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program (IHP). Individual Assistance funding also provides housing assistance for those with housing needs caused by the disaster but whom are not covered by insurance or other sources. This assistance includes rental assistance for alternate housing, reimbursement for short-term lodging expenses, home repair assistance, and home replacement assistance for primary owner-occupied homes.

Grants are also available for medical, dental, funeral, personal property, transportation, vehicle repair or replacement, moving and storage and other FEMA-approved expenses that are a result of the disaster. Homeowners may need to apply for a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan before receiving other needs assistance.

“It’s important to note that the programs provided through Individual Assistance will not compensate for all your losses, and are not a substitute for insurance; it’s intended to meet your basic needs,” said Brenda Morris, Individual Assistance program officer with N.C. Emergency Management. “We really encourage people to invest in flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program and to be sure to speak with their insurance agent about their homeowner or renter’s insurance before a disaster, which may help them recover more fully.”

Morris adds that it is prohibited for losses covered by another source to be paid for again by FEMA. This includes donations, gifts, insurance payouts and work done by a volunteer group, which in many areas are essential in helping people recover.

In places where there is a gap between Individual Assistance and a person’s needs, or in a disaster area where Individual Assistance hasn’t been approved, Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOADS) are there to help supplement those needs. To help facilitate and support these connections are the state’s Voluntary Agency Liaisons (VALs), who work under the N.C. Emergency Management’s Individual Assistance program. They not only provide information and guidance by acting as a liaison between government, volunteer groups and other community partners, but also support the delivery of inclusive, equitable services by empowering communities to address disaster-related unmet needs.

“As a VAL we support the various long-term recovery groups around the state. This work is ongoing, even in non-disaster times,” said Luz Sanabria-Reyes, state of North Carolina bilingual volunteer agency liaison. “We actively support and work with communities to improve their resilience against future disasters.”

Sanabria-Reyes is one of two state VALs in North Carolina and prior to coming to work for the state led a long-term recovery group. Her colleague, Phil Triplett, who has spent most of his 10 years in state government working in the Individual Assistance program, echoes Sanabria-Reyes and says that it is about building trust and working as a bridge between local communities, the state and FEMA.

“All disasters begin locally and end locally, which means it’s important for these groups to stay active so when a disaster happens that structure is already in place to begin assisting the community,” Triplett said. “During blue-sky days these groups can also work on non-disaster related activities and projects that are beneficial to the community, especially when it comes to building resilience.”

State Individual Assistance staff are helping individuals impacted by Tropical Storm Fred who suffered losses not covered by state or local government programs. They work with faith-based and volunteer organizations to help meet survivors’ unmet needs. Those who need services should contact the N.C. Emergency Management individual assistance program by email at or leave a voicemail at 919-825-2378.


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