Elizabeth Vargas

Elizabeth Vargas, a U.S. Small Business Administration representative from Houston, has been helping area residents apply for low-interest relief loans in the wake of the severe March flooding.

A Disaster Recovery Center designed to put flood-affected residents in direct contact with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) representatives has been erected in Bellwood.

The facility is located inside of the Bellwood Volunteer Fire Department, 752 41st Road. This DRC location is open from 9 a.m.- 6 p.m. through Saturday. Friday, the center will be closed during Arbor Day.

First and foremost, these centers will place county residents in front of people who can assess their own unique situations and help them apply for Individual Assistance aid through FEMA. Statewide, released information shows that just under 5,000 people have filed claims and that just under $19 million in Individual Aid has been approved.

This includes $16,816,436 for housing and $1,921,413 for other disaster-related needs. The deadline to apply for Individual Assistance remains March 20.

Statewide, there are a total of 27 counties, as well as the Santee Sioux Nation, eligible for this assistance. Those counties are Antelope, Boyd, Burt, Cuming, Hall, Howard, Madison, Nance, Pierce, Platte, Saline, Stanton, Knox, Thurston, Boone, Buffalo, Custer, Richardson, Butler, Cass, Colfax, Dodge, Douglas, Nehema, Sarpy, Saunders and Washington.

There are several ways to apply, according to FEMA Public Information Officer Thomas Kempton, who oversees portions of the FEMA operation in Nebraska.

People can go online and visit disasterassistance.gov, download the FEMA app on their smartphones or call 1-800-621-3362 anytime from 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. seven days a week.

Typically, Kempton said, people qualifying for aid receive in the ballpark of $4,000-$5,000.

In addition to having access to FEMA representatives, those attending the Butler County DRC – or any open DRC statewide - will be able to pick the brains of U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) staff. The federal organization offers low-interest loans to businesses of all sizes, most private nonprofit organizations, homeowners and renters.

Businesses and nonprofits are eligible for up to $2 million in loans, homeowners $200,000 and $40,000 loans for homeowners and renters needing to cover personal property loss.

“And the loan payment is much lower than usual,” Said Elizabeth Vargas, an SBA representative currently serving Nebraska.

Vargas lives in Houston, so she’s no stranger in dealing with flood-ravaged terrain.

“I spent five months working Hurricane Harvey,” she said.

She noted that people have the preconceived notion that the SBA only works with businesses, but in disaster situations, it opens up loan services for homeowners and renters, too.

Vargas said that the first thing flood-affected individuals should do is apply for Individual Assistance through FEMA and that then FEMA reps will talk them through how to apply for an SBA loan. Those not accepted through the SBA will then be referred back to FEMA to see if any other assistance is available.

The process of seeing what is covered through personal insurance, FEMA and the SBA can all be completed simultaneously, so Vargas encourages affected residents to get a jump on the process if they haven’t already.

The organization as of Friday, April 19, had approved $15,169,300 in low-interest disaster loans for state residents and businesses.

The nice thing about the process, she said, is that the application comes with no monetary strings attached. Even if a person or business is approved for a loan, they don’t have to accept and it won’t affect the lining of their pockets.

“You fill out your application, and they don’t have to take the loan, there are no fees,” Vargas said. “If they don’t want the loan after they have been approved, or if they want less money, we work with them. They will have six months to decide whether they want to take the loan. There are no closet fees - nothing.

“So it’s a win-win situation. They have the resources available and if they don’t need them or want them, it’s fine with us. But at least they know they have the resources available."

To apply using SBA’s online secure website, those interested are encouraged to visit www.disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. The application can also be completed at any open DRC. For additional information, those interested are encouraged to call 1-800-659-2955 to speak with an SBA representative.

The filing deadline is May 20.

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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News Editor

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram, Schuyler Sun and The Banner-Press newspapers. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2015.

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