The sun is shining again in Florida, and as people across the state begin to assess the damage from Hurricane Irma, they find themselves facing the dilemma of how and where to go to start the long road to recovery. Similarly to the victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, the most pressing are the questions of where the money to fix this will come from and how soon it will arrive.
FILE CLAIMS AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE AND DOCUMENT WITH PICTURES
Most insurance and financial advisors tell people in the midst of a disaster to file claims as early as possible and to document with pictures. Fortunately, insurance company Apps, by way of smartphones, have left behind the days of waiting for the adjuster to show up to get the ball rolling. However, the problem with storms like Harvey and Irma is the large number customers filing at one time and the magnitude of dollars involved. Moreover, this and the red tape around requests for federal funds slow down and clog up the flow of money to those in need.
$7.6 BILLION MADE AVAILABLE VIA THE COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT BLOCK GRANTS
Thanks to the quick actions of President Trump late last week, a bill was signed to approve $15 billion of immediate funding to communities impacted by hurricanes in both Florida and Texas. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) made $7.6 Billion available via the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) program to be used to help rebuild homes, business, and infrastructure. It’s entirely possible that we’ll see that number grow in the coming months.
Block Grants for disaster assistance are a way to jump start recovery for victims. According to HUD, once an area is declared a major disaster area by the president:
Congress may appropriate additional funding for the HUD Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program a disaster recovery grants to rebuild the affected areas and bring crucial seed money to stimulate the recovery process. Because CDBG funds a broad range of activities, CDBG Disaster Recovery assistance helps communities and neighborhoods that otherwise might not recover due to limits on other resources. Disaster Recovery grants supplement disaster programs of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Small Business Administration, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The unique characteristics of these block grants are that they are more quickly available and have an enormous amount of flexibility in comparison to other sources of federal aid. Communities can use the funds where they best suit their needs, both immediate and future. For example, Texas used the block grant funds to rebuild a water treatment facility that had been shut down for a week after Hurricane Ike in 2008. The project proved to be a success, as the plant remained operational through Hurricane Harvey.
ACCESSING 401K FUNDS FOR QUICK RELIEF
Another alternative for people to obtain relief quickly is by accessing 401K retirement plans by way of a loan or hardship withdrawals. If they or family members suffered loss from these storms, the IRS has relaxed the process for making the funds available. A loan is the best mode, as there are no penalties or tax implications if paid back within five years. It is also recommended as a temporary solution while waiting for expected relief funds from other sources, which may take months to secure. However, for those who have lost virtually everything, the decision to use their retirement funds now, regardless of tax and penalties, may be the best or even the only option.
In the meantime, our hearts and prayers go out to everyone impacted by these storms, and we hope that relief will come to them as quickly as possible. By working together as a nation and helping one another, we can all rest assured: “this too, shall pass.”