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Duplication of benefit term haunting flood survivors

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CENTRAL - Sometimes it's hard to accept the reality that all of the recovery funds available may not bring someone back to the living standards they were accustomed to prior to the August 2016 flood.

It's a tough reality for Virginia Box.

It all boils down to a term many flood survivors are hearing these days, which is the "duplication of benefits". It's a hard example of the recovery process many are going through.

The past year and a half has been hard for Box.

"It's exhausted me," she said.

Box's home in the City of Central took in about five feet of water. That water sat in her home for a few days before receding. Most of her belongings were kicked to the curb and she was forced to start from scratch.

In the beginning, she was awarded FEMA grant money. She spent some of that money on necessities including rent, storage, and other items she lost in the flood.

"I had to have a bed made," she said. "I had lost all my clothing."

She put away some of those funds, but now she might be learning the hard way that she has a homeowner responsibility to fulfill.

Box does qualify for assistance from Restore Louisiana, but before she can move forward with Restore she must come up with the FEMA money she's already spent. Restore says the FEMA funds were given to her specifically for home repairs and the program is not allowed to waive or not factor those funds into the award calculation if they weren't used for that purpose. Otherwise, the funds would be considered a duplication of benefits.

Applicants eligible for federal disaster assistance receive a detailed letter explaining the type of assistance dispersed through the FEMA's Individuals and Households Program. Each individual letter is written based upon the type and amount of assistance that particular applicant has qualified for and guidelines are included in each letter advising that applicant what those funds may be used towards.

Examples are as follows.

FEMA’s Rental Assistance is provided to the survivor to temporarily rent housing for their entire household. The amount received is based on rental rates determined by FEMA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

FEMA’s Home Repair Assistance is provided to help with essential repairs to ensure the home is safe, sanitary and functional. The amount provided is based on the damage caused by the disaster and the estimated cost of repairs.

Personal Property Assistance is awarded to repair or replace items damaged by the disaster. The amount provided is based on the damage caused by the disaster and the estimated cost of repairs/ replacement. Awarded applicants will receive a summary of eligible repairs based on damages submitted for review.

Other Need Assistance Program provides funding for necessary expenses and serious needs caused by the disaster. This includes medical, dental, child care, funeral, personal property, transportation, and moving and storage that are authorized by law.

Box argues, what she spent the FEMA funding on, qualifies under FEMA guidelines.

"They told me to spend it on what I needed," she said.

She's frustrated and devastated about this process, but knows she's not the only one in this boat.

"I've heard the same story," she said.

Thursday afternoon, Box was worried about the thought of having to sell her property. Now, she's hopeful she will receive assistance from a charitable organization. Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge Executive Director David Aguillard confirms the organization is working with her.

"We are doing everything we can to get her every penny she is eligible for in close partnership with the state," said Aguillard.

Restore Louisiana says it understands the difficulties this homeowner is having and has been working with her to address them. Restore says it's also working with banks and other lending institutions to help homeowners who are having a difficult time overcoming the duplication of benefits issue.


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