This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.
There’s a sign pointing them in the right direction — white printer paper taped to the door, the edges curling a bit, the words in large type: “Disaster assistance.”
Inside the waiting room, it’s cold. People shift and wait on hard, faux-leather chairs. They’ve brought along videos and photos of when the water flowed into their basements, businesses or low-lying apartments.
Inside the Catawba County Agriculture Resource Building in Newton, a disaster recovery center has opened to allow people hit by flooding in Catawba, Caldwell, Burke, Alexander, Iredell and Lincoln counties to apply for low-interest loans (from the U.S. Small Business Administration) and grants (from North Carolina Emergency Management).People come here to apply for low-interest loans of up to $200,000 to repair or replace damaged structures or up to $40,000 to repair and replace damaged personal property. Those who don’t qualify for the SBA loans may be eligible for N.C. Emergency Management’s individual assistance grants.
Many of the people who have come to the center so far are from Newton, with a handful a day making the trip from surrounding counties such as Caldwell.
Brenda Morris, an individual assistant planning coordinator for N.C. Emergency Management, and her team came to Newton from Raleigh and will remain until Aug. 15, shepherding residents through the loan- and grant-application processes.
The process mostly involves paperwork. When residents first arrive seeking a loan, they meet with SBA staff to fill out a loan application. If, for whatever reason, they can’t be approved, they can meet with N.C. Emergency Management staff to fill out a grant application.
The process eventually involves a home visit and, once approved for a grant, residents sign documents saying they’ll use the funds only on the repairs for which they requested them.
On Thursday, the first day the disaster assistance center was open, 53 people came seeking assistance. It can be a lengthy process, so staff found themselves working straight through until 8 p.m. – two hours later than the center was supposed to close for the day.
“I didn’t look up to see daylight until 3:00,” Morris said.
The next morning, the center was supposed to open at 9, but by 8:30 a.m. 11 people had lined up outside. The staff decided to go ahead and open.
The center is open as a result of separate events: the state disaster declaration Gov. Pat McCrory signed for Catawba County and contiguous counties Aug. 7, and an SBA declaration for flood damage in Catawba County July 27. Catawba was the only county that met the threshold for SBA assistance, but residents and business owners in surrounding counties can apply for SBA financial assistance as well, according to a press release from Caldwell County.
In its first two days, staff at the center has had to readjust and realign. They found that most people weren’t sure what to bring, so they’re working to circulate the list of required documents online.
Morris said that in the first day and a half at the center, only one person – a man from Hickory – had every required document.
His wife put them together for him, she said.