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Platte County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jerry Engdahl was optimistic from the get-go that county residents would receive Individual Assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the wake of the historic March flooding.

On Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Pete Ricketts during a press conference announced that the third bundle of counties was approved to receive Individual Assistance designed to benefit homeowners, business owners and property renters who sustained flood-related damage.

“I’m just happy for the people who now get to apply (for aid),” Engdahl said. “Like I’ve said, we knew it was going to happen, it was just a matter of when it actually did happen.”

There are now 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.

Those with damage they would like to report must apply for aid by May 20. There are several ways to apply, said FEMA Public Information Officer Thomas Kempton, who oversees portions of the FEMA operation in Platte County.

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 anywhere between $4,000-$5,000. This money is only provided through FEMA once all other options are exhausted. People first need to contact their insurance providers to see if traditional home and flood insurance will cover portions of the damage.

“That won’t rebuild their home,” Kempton said of the aid some will receive through FEMA. “But, it will provide some assistance.”

On Saturday, Platte County Emergency Manager Tim Hofbauer is scheduled to meet with FEMA representatives to once again canvass the sites in the south and southwest portions of the county most affected by the flooding. He noted that representatives then will start going door to door in those areas to provide residents with the necessary knowledge to move forward with filing claims.

Then, in the near future, a disaster resource center will be set up in town – the location is being determined -- acting as the home base for Individual Assistance operations.

“Individuals will meet with FEMA reps at the disaster resource center. Then an inspector will go out to the property and look at the damage and then come back and work through the assessment so people can learn what aid they will get if any," Hofbauer said.

Hofbauer said that not everybody who applies will receive funding. Those who don’t, he added, can go through an appeals process once denied if they so choose.

“There will be people who get denied. It’s tough, but it’s going to happen,” Hofbauer said.

Countywide, it’s estimated that at least $47 million in damages occurred. That figure, Engdahl said, doesn’t include personal land and cattle loss.

One benefit for the county, though, is that it’s eligible to receive Public Assistance through FEMA. At least 65 of Nebraska’s 93 counties are eligible for this form of assistance which is used to repair counties' infrastructure, utilities and roads, as well as compensating county officials for initial response expenses incurred.

These dollars are generally covered 75 percent by FEMA, with local and state agencies covering the remaining 25 percent, Kempton said.

“Everything helps, but it’s not going to make anyone, or the county, whole,” Engdahl said. “Whatever we get is very appreciated but we are not going to come out ahead, I’ll tell you that. If we get reimbursed 75 percent we are still short about $12 million.”

The chairman added that if need be, a chunk of money might be pulled from the county’s Inheritance Fund to offset some of the expenses remaining.

“I have had a few – very few – individuals who have been critical of the amount that we have had in the Inheritance Fund,” Engdahl said. “But, my parents always said that you need to have some money for a rainy day.

“And I’m sure glad we have that fund now because we had our rainy day.”

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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