The Mountain Times

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Vermont’s $2.4 million disaster grant approved by FEMA

By LEE J. KAHRS

Vermont has served as a model for its rapid response and ongoing recovery from Tropical Storm Irene five months ago. Now, a recent grant from federal government will be used to support the aid systems Vermont has established to help those still in need.

Vermont Irene Recovery Officer Sue Minter said in an interview Monday that a $2.4 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced last week will be used to extend the employment of 11 case workers who have been working with survivors of the flooding. She said the grant would help extend the system the state already created to help those victims of the flooding.

"We have an inter-agency team that goes to towns, as well as volunteer committees and case managers who have been hired and trained specially to work with these committees," she said. "The state paid for the first four months and no, because of our success, FEMA is giving us money to sustain this system."

Minter acknowledged that the number of case managers will drop from the current 16 to 11. However, she said the funding is a testament to how Vermont is being viewed from the outside.

"Relative to other states, Vermont stands out, and FEMA has been very impressed," Minter said. "This is really a testament to the Vermont Strong spirit."

The grant was written and applied for by the Vermont Agency of Human Services, which will contract with three Community Action agencies for the 11 case managers through August of 2013.  Those case managers will work with the same clients from start to finish, identifying the assistance already received, prioritize what disaster related needs remain, and locating the resources available.  Case managers will follow up with individuals to ensure all needs are met.

The case managers will be working in partnership with 11 Long Term Recovery Committees around Vermont.  Minter said those still in need of case management services should call 2-1-1 to be referred to the appropriate Long Term Recovery Committee.

Minter was asked how she and her staff intend to get people who may have not registered with FEMA even now to dial those numbers and ask for help.

"We're trying desperately to reach out to folks who have registered with FEMA," she said. "But we know there are folks who haven't reached out. We're continuing trying to do more marketing of this whole program, such as public service announcements."

Minter said the state is working closely with The Vermont Disaster Relief Fund (VDRF), created by the United Ways of Vermont in cooperation with the Vermont Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster and Vermont Emergency Management, and the Vermont Long Term Disaster Recovery Group (VLTDRG), a private non-profit working with the American Red Cross and the Vermont Community Fund.

The VDRF provides funds for survivors once they have exhausted private insurance, federal, state and local funding resources. FEMA covers up to $30,400 in damages to homeowners whose property has been totaled.

The VLTDRG is distributing the funds and deploying volunteer assistance to Vermonters who continue to need help rebuilding their lives after Tropical Storm Irene. The nine-member group is charged with assessing the financial and resource needs of disaster victims who have lost their homes or who have experienced large financial losses and have exhausted all other options for financial support.

While the state recovery system and the FEMA funding to continue the work is being lauded by the congressional delegation, Sen. Bernie Sanders issued a cautionary statement regarding the grant announcement that he hopes will help those who have yet to access the state support system.

"There are many Vermonters who have had trouble navigating the array of federal, state, private and non-profit assistance, and there are others who have regrettably fallen through the cracks," he said. "This grant will provide much-needed resources so the state and community action agencies can work with these individuals and families to make sure they are getting all of the assistance they are eligible for."

Another goal of the state is to keep this recovery story on the front burner as long as necessary, even in unaffected areas of Vermont, because it's far from over.

"A lot of Vermonters don't know there are ongoing needs," she said. "They think the roads are open and Irene is over. They have no idea of the need that's still out there."

Tagged: Irene