Disaster Recovery Center opens

Joint federal-state Disaster Recovery Centers opened on Kaua‘i and O‘ahu Tuesday for people who sustained personal and business losses during the flooding and heavy rains that ended early last month.

Run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Small Business Administration, in conjunction with several other federal and state agencies, the DCRs will operate Monday through Friday, from noon to 8 p.m., and every Saturday except May 13 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., for as long as they are needed.

Early Tuesday afternoon was relatively quiet at the Kaua‘i location, in Lihu‘e’s War Memorial Convention Hall.

One of the tallest hurdles in disaster relief is getting the word out about government assistance, said SBA team leader John Groth.

“The biggest obstacle is the business that suffers an economic loss and makes it up in other areas because they didn’t know this was available,” he said.

After President Bush signed a disaster declaration for parts of Hawai‘i last week, the SBA announced low-interest loans of up to $1.5 million for small businesses suffering from disaster-related cash-flow problems and property losses.

Groth said most of Kaua‘i’s small business losses will come in the form of “economic injury” instead of physical damages to assets.

“If a nautical tour operator usually does $8,000 of revenues in March, and this March they did $1,000, we’ll help make up the difference,” Groth said.

Groth, a veteran of last fall’s Gulf Coast hurricane season disaster relief efforts and an accomplished small businessman, said the most important thing is for businesses to avoid moving money budgeted elsewhere, such as savings or marketing, to make up for losses in revenues.

“Reallocating money is dangerous because the impact is felt down the road,” he said.

Homeowners and renters can also apply for the low-interest loans, which are approved by loan officers in Fort Worth, Texas.

“The bulge is through the snake on the Rita and Katrina business, so (applications) will go through pretty fast,” Groth said.

He also said the Hawai’i applications will not navigate the same bureaucratic channels as the ongoing Gulf Coast loan applications, further expediting the process.

Those that do not qualify for SBA loans will be referred to FEMA, said DCR manager Helbent Frazier.

“We will find something for them in terms of individual family grants,” he said.

Frazier said the maximum FEMA grant is $27,200, though the amount will vary case by case, depending on damage, need and insurance coverage.

Both Groth and Frazier said they expect it to take at least three weeks to provide adequate assistance.

“We don’t want to miss anyone,” Frazier said.

To combat lack of public awareness, Frazier said FEMA has a community relations staff whose job it is to identify individuals who need assistance and provide them the proper information.

Both organizations, along with the American Red Cross and various government agencies dealing with health and human services, mental health, unemployment insurance, real property and mitigation, are striving to let the community know.

Kaua‘i County Chamber of Commerce president Randall Francisco met with Groth to gather information for the 70 people attending this Thursday’s Business After Hours event in Princeville.

“I wanted to let the community know what SBA is doing and encourage them to give a call,” he said. “You never know if you qualify unless you ask.”

Aside from showing up in person, residents can register online at www.fema.gov, or call toll-free 1-800-621-3362 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. local time, seven days a week.

Farmers and ranchers should contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency.

• Ford Gunter, staff writer, may be reached at fgunter@kauaipubco.com, or 245-3681 (ext. 251).

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