A disaster relief center will open Thursday in the Lewiston Armory at 65 Central Ave. to help Androscoggin County residents and businesses apply for economic aid related to the Dec. 18, 2023, rainstorm and resulting flooding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Small Business Administration set up the center, which will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Saturday. Joe Charpentier/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Federal agencies will open a disaster relief center Thursday at the Lewiston Armory at 65 Central Ave. to help residents and businesses in Androscoggin County apply for economic aid related to damage from the Dec. 18 rainstorm.

President Joe Biden issued a disaster declaration Jan. 31 for Maine counties affected by the storm that caused historic flooding in some areas. Androscoggin, Franklin, Kennebec, Oxford and Somerset counties claimants will have access to physical damage and economic injury relief.

Centers have also opened in Rumford at 145 Congress St. and Skowhegan at 4 County Drive.

Aroostook, Cumberland, Lincoln, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Sagadahoc, Waldo and York counties in Maine and Carroll and Coos counties in New Hampshire will have access to economic injury relief only.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Small Business Administration set up the office, which will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Saturday.

Madaline Trepagnier, Lewiston’s disaster relief center manager, said there is a lot of information people need to know about the center’s role in their communities and the best way to learn is to come into the center to fill out an application. Anyone, regardless of what they may think about their situation, should apply if the Dec. 18 flood affected their home or business.

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“You are not taking away from someone else in need of assistance,” Trepagnier said. “Everyone’s situation is different. Some people may have a home that was totally destroyed by flooding; others may have lost personal property like a child’s laptop or furniture …  We may be able to help and applying is free.”

SBA spokesman Brian Beard said low-interest business physical, economic injury and home disaster loans through are also available and applications are free. Homeowners can borrow up to $500,000 for home damage and up to $100,000 for personal property damage. Businesses and nonprofits can borrow up to $2 million for physical and/or economic damage.

“Business owners don’t have to have physical damage to borrow if they need assistance for working capital. (That means) if a business had a drop in sales over a period of time due to the disaster, they can borrow for that,” he said.

Beard said reasons to apply for a loan include no closing or prepayment costs, no interest or payments for the first year of the loan, loans can be used to cover insurance deductibles, they can cover costs insurance policies will not, and applicants can request 20% more of total estimated damage to cover mitigation against future damage. Also, loan terms max out at 30 years, making for affordable repayment plans if a loan is granted, and the applicant has two months to decide and can decline at no cost.

Disaster relief center crew leader Angel Cormier said his door-to-door team has already canvassed seven streets in Lewiston. They can help residents register for disaster relief on the spot and show how to upload, mail or fax supporting documents from home if a letter of denial is issued for any missing or wrong information.

Perhaps the most important information residents and business owners should know, Cormier and Trepagnier said, is a letter of denial does not mean an applicant does not qualify for assistance.

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“When you get a letter saying you were denied … it’s important to know denials are not denials,” Trepagnier said. “Don’t just throw out the letter. You need to read (it) because the denial might come from something as simple as an incorrect address or Social Security number when you submitted the application or provided information for an application.”

People should come to the center to speak with someone who can help, Trepagnier said.

A survivor of a natural disaster herself, she said disaster relief centers are established to genuinely help where they can, and in the rare event they can’t help, they can refer applicants to resources which may. For example, in some cases, a denied SBA loan application may prompt a referral to FEMA and vice versa, Beard and Trepagnier said. The center is also equipped to help those with disabilities and those in need of translation services.

“We do this one on one,” she said. “We’re here to listen. Tell us your story. Don’t second-guess yourself. As (people) are speaking, they remember stuff they may not have remembered before. Then we might say, ‘oh, you need ABC, not DEF’ because they may have come in and said they have a business and a home that were destroyed. How does that work?

“Maybe they say, ‘I live in a rural area and my septic tank was messed up, my well was messed up.’ We assist with that also ,” Trepagnier said. “They may have some things their insurance didn’t cover, so we tell them to bring that in and let’s review it because we may be able to assist with, like, HVAC, which insurance companies won’t cover a lot of the time. We can pick up on things people might not even know.”

We’re here to help,” she said.

People may apply for disaster relief via the FEMA mobile app, online at DisasterAssistance.gov, sba.gov/disaster, or at the center in Lewiston. The deadline to register is April 1, 2024.

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