State Says FEMA Has Been Flexible In Helping Mobile Homeowners

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The state says the Federal Emergency Management Agency has shown some flexibility and provided additional funds to people who lost mobile homes to Tropical Storm Irene.

Officials see this as a positive development in what has sometimes been a rocky relationship between Vermont and the federal agency.

Mobile homes were disproportionately damaged by the floodwaters of Irene and an earlier storm in May.

Research by the University of Vermont shows that 154 homes in 14 parks were damaged in the two floods. Fifteen percent of all the homes damaged by Irene last August were mobile homes.

But FEMA rules posed a challenge for these homeowners. Jennifer Hollar is deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Economic, Housing and Community Affairs. She says homeowners found it difficult to get full FEMA funding under the agency’s individual assistance program.

"In many cases they were getting just a few thousand dollars, what FEMA thought they would need to repair those homes," Hollar says. "When in reality the water damage to them was so great that their homes were in effect destroyed. So fortunately, we were able to work with FEMA over the last six months or so and they’ve agreed to review a lot of those cases."

Hollar said Governor Peter Shumlin’s office was able to use his executive emergency legal authority to issue condemnation letters for the homes. With the home no longer considered habitable, the owner was eligible for additional funds.

"So in most cases what that meant is that the FEMA applicant, or the survivor, the homeowner, received the maximum FEMA benefit of $30,200 rather than $4-5,000 which was typical," Hollar says.

The state has processed 130 of applications with FEMA. The federal agency in turn provided about $1 million directly to flood survivors.

Hollar said it was unusual for FEMA to re-open the cases. But she said the agency agreed to do so and left staff in place to handle the paperwork.

"It’s been an example of a successful partnership with FEMA," she says.

Other aspects of the state’s relationship have not been so positive. Officials disclosed last month that the state may not get the money it was counting on to rehabilitate the Waterbury state office complex and relocate the state hospital.

And the Shumlin administration recently announced it’s helping towns appeal FEMA’s decisions that denied full reimbursement for flood recovery projects.

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