Federal dollars now available for victims of last month’s tornado; Realtors, local foundation also set up funds to help

photo by: Submitted photo by Joe Leuschen

Drone footage shows a portion of the damage in the Shank Hill neighborhood south of Lawrence following a tornado on May 28, 2019.

Some low-interest loans — and even some grants — are now available for homeowners, renters and businesses that are facing unexpected costs related to last month’s tornado.

President Donald Trump’s decision last week to grant a disaster declaration for seven counties hit by a May 28 tornado and thunderstorms comes with some real money for Douglas County. The declaration means that nearly anyone who has property loss that isn’t fully covered by insurance can apply for a loan that likely will be cheaper than what they could get at a bank.

“Typically, we find that insurance doesn’t cover all the loss or damage an individual or business may have suffered,” said Burl Kelton, a public information officer with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Dozens of area households are likely finding that out the hard way. Most insurance policies have deductibles, sometimes requiring thousands of dollars to be paid out-of-pocket before insurance programs begin paying for expenses. The loans through the Small Business Administration can cover those expenses. Loans also can be used to supplement insurance policies that simply haven’t kept up with the cost of inflation — you insured your house for $150,000 when you built it new 20 years ago, for example, but now it would cost $250,000 to rebuild it.

If you have some property that isn’t covered by insurance at all, the loan program can help cover the gap.

For homeowners and renters, they can apply for loans up to $200,000. Interest rates vary depending on your credit score, but Kelton said loans often are offered for less than 2% interest and can be repaid on a term for up to 30 years.

Businesses can qualify for up to $2 million in loans, and interest rates are closer to 4%.

Most private, nonprofit organization also are eligible for up to $2 million in loans with interest rates near 2.75%, Kelton said.

The SBA is opening two area offices Tuesday to assist people in person with loan applications. In Lawrence, the office will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. each weekday at Peaslee Tech, Classroom B, 2920 Haskell Ave. in southeast Lawrence. In Linwood, in neighboring Leavenworth County, an office will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each weekday at the Linwood Community Center.

Homes and businesses were hit hard by the May 28 tornado in both communities. The tornado was on the ground for 31 miles, damaging homes and properties just south of the Lawrence city limits and near Eudora in northeast Douglas County, among other locations. Douglas County officials said 17 people were injured in the storm, 13 homes were destroyed and more than 80 properties were damaged in the county. In nearby Linwood, large parts of that rural community were destroyed or damaged.

The tornado, rated an EF-4, was the strongest to ever tear through the county, according to weather records. A dollar figure on the amount of damage, which also will include agricultural losses, hasn’t yet been released.

Kelton said the fact the Small Business Administration overseas the loan program sometimes causes people to mistakenly believe they must be a business owner to qualify for a loan. That’s not the case. You don’t even have to be the owner of the house that was damaged. Renters can apply for loans to help cover the cost of personal property or vehicles that were damaged in the storm.

To apply for a loan, people need to bring information about their insurance policy, plus personal data such as a Social Security number and other identification. That will get the loan process started. Kelton said your insurance claim doesn’t have to be settled before applying for a loan. He doesn’t suggest waiting for the insurance company to finish its work because that may needlessly cause a delay in the loan process.

“Sometimes people wait to see what insurance will give them,” Kelton said. “They really would be better not to do it that way.”

Time is an issue. All loan applications must be made by Aug. 13. In addition to going to one of the two area offices, people can get the application process started by going to disasterassistance.gov or calling 800-659-2955.

In addition to using the loan to replace what you had, the loan can help add a few new items, especially if they may prevent future storm damage or injuries. Up to 20% of a loan can be used to purchase mitigation efforts, Kelton said. That means if a home didn’t have a storm shelter before, the loan possibly could fund one. Or, another example is homes could be rebuilt using tie-down systems meant to better secure roofs or foundations during strong winds.

Residents in six other counties, besides Douglas, are eligible to apply for the loans. They are Franklin, Jefferson, Johnson, Leavenworth, Miami, Osage and Shawnee counties.

• • •

Yes, I did mention something about grant money, i.e., the type of money you don’t have to pay back. The Lawrence Board of Realtors is offering grant money to help people with up to one month of a mortgage or rent payments.

People who were displaced from their homes by the tornado are eligible to receive up to $1,500 to help with a rent or mortgage payment, according to information from the local board of Realtors.

The national Realtors Relief Foundation has provided up to $75,000 for the local Realtors association to use for emergency grants. People can begin the application process at LawrenceRealtor.com/Relief or by calling the local office at 842-1843.

• • •

One other new initiative has grown out of the May 28 tornado. The Douglas County Community Foundation has started a new relief fund aimed at helping the community during times of disasters.

In the days following the tornado, the foundation created the Douglas County Disaster Response Fund. Through the dccfoundation.org website, individuals or businesses can make a donation to the fund.

The Community Foundation, which manages local assets of more than $45 million, has agreed to oversee the funds. Through a committee, donated funds will be disbursed to local nonprofit organizations that are providing direct relief related to the storm.

Importantly, though, the fund will continue on long after the storm damage is cleaned up. Chip Blaser, executive director of the Community Foundation, said the goal was to have a fund and a way for people to easily donate for any future disaster relief efforts.

He said the foundation thought it could play a role by using its expertise in fundraising and money management while other nonprofits were out in the field providing the actual services to storm victims.

Blaser said the fund has raised almost $10,000 since the tornado. The foundation hasn’t yet disbursed any funds to nonprofits but would do so soon, Blaser said. He said the foundation is part of the county’s Longterm Recovery Committee. That committee is hearing from local nonprofits about what their storm-related needs are. Based on those proposals, the foundation will award an unspecified amount of money to the nonprofits, which in turn will use the money to provide services to those in need.


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