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FEMA talks Montana disaster assistance, deadlines

Debris covers a water-covered bridge
Kayla Desroches
Yellowstone Public Radio/File photo
A bridge in Red Lodge following a flood in June

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has distributed more than $1 million dollars in assistance so far to residents in Montana counties hit by floods last month. The deadline for individuals to apply for federal dollars is coming up.

FEMA spokesperson Tony Mayne and Small Business Administration spokesperson Louise Porter spoke with Yellowstone Public Radio’s Kayla Desroches about assistance programs available and how to apply.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Kayla Desroches: Just to start, how does FEMA determine what regions are eligible for federal assistance?

Tony Mayne: The state goes out first and then they request us and then we come and we also go out to verify, and then if it reaches certain thresholds, then those thresholds mean that the governor goes back and requests an individual assistance declaration.

Once FEMA decides a region is eligible for individual assistance, who qualifies and what types of assistance are available to them?

Mayne: So, let's just look at Yellowstone County, the people that were affected by the flooding of the river. That's a big thing. It's not like if you're on the other side of Yellowstone County — you can apply for assistance, but you're probably not gonna get it because you weren't affected.

Let's say someone who was living by the river and their house still has about two or three feet of mud in it, that's something that's a little different. Or people whose wells were affected. Power. Things like that. Or their basements were flooded.

Even if you don't think you’ve been affected — apply. Let them tell you no, because the people that are here locally or the people online, they're here to take your information and then see if we can get you directed to the right program to get the needed assistance that you need.

So far, how many applicants have requested individual assistance and how many of them are homeowners versus businesses?

Louise Porter: We have received 471 FEMA referrals for homes and personal property, and we've received 202 for businesses. Now, businesses can be eligible for physical damage to their business property as well as economic injury and economic injury is money for working capital to keep the business open through the recovery period and with the economic injury program, that extends to all the contiguous counties too.

So we have the primary counties of park Stillwater, Carbon, and Yellowstone, but any county that is touching one of those counties is also eligible for the economic injury for businesses. And that deadline isn't until March 30th of 2023. So there's a little bit of time left for that, but the physical deadline is August 29th.

How much has been distributed to individuals?

Mayne: We've had 671 valid registrations, and that's for more than $1.7 million.

Do you have any advice for Montanans who are not currently affected by floods, but may be in a floodplain and don't have insurance currently?

Mayne: Currently flood insurance is very vital if you live in a floodplain. Here's something — a lot of people don't think they're in flood danger, but if you're in an area, let's say they had a fire within the last five years, a big wildfire, there’s a greater danger of flooding in those areas because of the burn scars now, because if we have, like, the rain like we had before, you got that snow sitting there, you get that heavy rain, it runs down and, like we know, water goes to path of least resistance. And guess where that is? The burn scars. So, if you live near those areas have been in those areas where there's been wildfires, be very, very aware of that.

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In addition to FEMA funding, some people who are not currently employed due to flooding can apply for the Montana-run, federally-funded Disaster Unemployment Assistance Program. The deadline for applications is Aug. 4.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.