CEDAR RAPIDS — Elected officials pleaded Friday for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to bring 200 trailers to Cedar Rapids for residents whose homes were destroyed in the Aug. 10 derecho.
Agency representatives who spoke at a forum organized by Democratic U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer said FEMA trailers are expensive, take a long time to deploy and should be used only if local rental housing and other options aren’t available.
“We always look for something faster and better,” said DuWayne Tewes, FEMA’s federal coordinating officer for the derecho response. Trailers are “often the last resort.”
But with Cedar Rapids having only a 2.2 percent apartment vacancy rate before the storm and displaced tenants vying for the few available units, it may be time to call for the trailers, officials said.
“We are, quite possibly, at last resort,” Finkenauer said. “If it takes six weeks to get trailers, we may need to start the process.”
As of Friday morning, FEMA had approved $1.9 million in individual assistance for Iowans, with much of that going to Cedar Rapidians because Linn County was the first county to get approval for individual aid, Tewes said. About 600 households have been approved so far.
But state Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt, D-Cedar Rapids, said she’s hearing about a lot of residents whose applications have been denied, possibly for clerical errors. She asked FEMA to follow up with those people to see if they do qualify because she said many who had to complete the forms on their phones may have entered information incorrectly.
FEMA has a Disaster Recovery Center at 950 Rockford Drive SW near Veterans Memorial Stadium where Linn County residents can drive up and get help filing an application for assistance or ask questions. Tewes said staff there can scan in documents and the center has interpreting services available.
“Thousands of people registering are telling us they do have insurance,” Tewes said. “It’s great to hear so many Iowans were up-to-date on their insurance and had healthy insurance policies.”
But Iowans still could be eligible for FEMA assistance for things insurance doesn’t cover, so Running-Marquardt recommends people apply if they aren’t sure.
Cedar Rapids City Council member Ann Poe asked Tewes how long it takes for people who are approved for aid to get the money.
“Sometimes it’s as quick as 72 hours, sometimes it’s a little longer,” Tewes said about the amount of time after people submit all their required paperwork.
Council member Scott Olson urged FEMA and Iowa Homeland Security officials to consider longer term rental of Corridor hotel rooms for displaced residents.
“Hotels are only a 34 percent occupancy,” he said. “I would hope we could find 200 rooms that could be used today and not have to wait on trailers. We have 1,600 units that could be available. I hope you can explore that option.”
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