WASHINGTON — — The federal government has sent more than $1 million in aid to the Eastern Shore to help victims of Hurricane Sandy and continues to process requests, emergency management officials said Wednesday.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has received 619 applications for assistance since the Obama administration reversed its initial denial and agreed to provide disaster aid to individuals in Somerset County affected by the storm. The city of Crisfield was particularly hard hit by heavy flooding that damaged hundreds of homes.
"Everything is progressing, but it's not back to normal," said Rex D. Simpkins, president of the Somerset County Board of Commissioners. "But I think this helps. ... We're going to get there eventually."
As the money began to flow, federal and state officials told those receiving the aid to be careful how they spend it and advised them to keep receipts for three years in case they are audited. For instance, housing assistance grants may be used only for home repairs, short-term rental assistance or hotel expenses. Other FEMA grants can be used for medical costs and transportation.
Low-interest loans that can be used to cover many costs are available from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Though the federal government issued a disaster declaration Nov. 20 for Maryland that will help pay to fix public property, the Obama administration initially determined that the storm did not cause enough damage to warrant aid to individuals who lost homes or businesses. State officials scrambled to reassess the damage as elected leaders in Washington and Annapolis pressed for a second review.
FEMA reversed its decision Dec. 14, opening the aid program to applicants in Somerset County.
Federal and state officials did not report any problems with how recipients are spending the money in Maryland but said they are alerting residents of the rules to prevent issues. The agency warned recipients not to use the money for household bills, for instance, or purchases unrelated to the disaster.
Agency officials said recipients who misuse the money will be cut off from further aid.
"Many people have great needs, and the money they receive may not cover all they would like," Ken Mallette, executive director of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, said in a statement. "But if you spend money on anything other than what your FEMA letter tells you, additional assistance may not be available."
Marylanders could benefit from a $60.4 billion disaster spending bill working its way through the U.S. Senate. The bill would direct much of that money to harder hit New York and New Jersey, but it would set aside $17 billion in grants that could be used by all states affected by the storm, including Maryland.
The legislation cleared a significant procedural hurdle Friday, when 91 senators voted to end debate on the bill and move to a final vote. That vote is expected this week.
To allay concerns of Republican lawmakers, senators also voted Friday to require Congress to offset $3.4 billion in disaster spending called for in the bill with federal budget cuts.
Also included in the proposal is language that would require the Obama administration to give consideration to a community's unemployment level, average income and the number of elderly when deciding whether to grant aid that can be used to cover housing and medical expenses in the future.