Federal Loans Offer Assistance For Some After Flooding, Last Resort For Others

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG)—The Small Business Administration’s (SBA) disaster outreach loan center in Otsego County closed Tuesday. It offered homeowners and businesses affected by flooding this summer relatively low-interest loans.

But taking out a disaster loan is not necessarily the most affordable, or accessible, option for all residents.

In Morris, N.Y., floodwaters eroded entire sections of stream bank near residents’ homes. (Jillian Forstadt/WSKG)

A Race Against Nature

Marie Gupil, who lives in the Village of Morris, is hopeful the SBA’s disaster loan program will help her pay for some of the damage done to her property. At the very least, she will use the federal loan to pay back another loan, which she took out of her 401K in order to begin repairs.

“I did take a loan out of my 401K because I gotta get it paid for,” Gupil said. “It’s got to get done.”

Gupil’s cellar was inundated with water after severe storms caused the Reservoir Brook, which runs through Morris, and that borders Gupil’s home, to flood. Both the new furnace she bought last year and the electric box must be replaced.

As of Monday, Gupil had not heard whether she was accepted into the SBA loan program. In the meantime, she hired a crew to fix the stream bank, a $10,000 project.

Floodwaters rotted the metal wire cages that held a foundation made of rocks and pebbles to prevent further erosion from the bank. Gupil first added them to her home after floods in June 2006, during which she lost some of the land between her house and the creek.

There was nearly 2 feet of grass between her home and the stream bank. Today, there is no land between the stone foundation of her home and the cages protecting the bank.

“It’s like a race against Mother Nature,” Gupil said.

Gupil said she does not want to begin repairs inside her home until she knows the outdoor perimeter is secure.

Avoiding Another Unplanned Expense

SBA loans for homeowners can cover up to $40,000 of destroyed property like appliances, and up to $200,000 to repair or replace homes, with interest rates as low as 1.625 percent for homeowners.

After the number of applicants in and around Morris dwindled, SBA officials said, the agency decided to close its outreach center.

For some residents, however, taking out a loan was always a last resort. Like flood damage, loans pose unexpected costs and come with interest.

“I don’t want to go into debt for something I might get a grant for,” Marilyn Roveland said.

Roveland, who has lived in her home next to the Reservoir Brook for the last 40 years, has recovered from multiple floods in recent decades.

But Roveland is 80 years old and lives alone. Her finances are not always stable. Cleaning up after a flood is harder for her now.

“I went down and there’s four feet of water coming down my cellar stairs, and I knew I couldn’t handle [it],” Roveland said.

(Jillian Forstadt/WSKG)

The flood she referred to hit back in July, and Roveland is still working to clean up her home.

“So I put an application in to USDA, for old poor people, which is what I am,” Roveland continued with a chuckle.

The USDA, or United States Department of Agriculture, funding would come as a grant, meaning Roveland could get the money she needs debt-free.

She submitted a 50-page application, although she does not know at this point how soon the money will come.

In the meantime, Roveland has received some help from family. Her brother-in-law came and fixed her hot water heater, which broke in the flood.

“So, I have hot water, but I’m hoping I’ll have a furnace by heating season,” Roveland said.

While many others also faced basements and cellars flooding, Michele Farwell, who represents Morris on the Otsego County Board of Representatives, said the largest share of damages was done to lawns, driveways and farms.

“We had some people whose barns were overturned,” said Farwell, who also represents Butternuts and Pittsfield, part of the largely rural swath of the county that was affected by flooding this summer. “Lots of barns.”

According to the SBA website, however, its home and personal property loans cannot cover “agricultural losses”. The agency’s program only covers damage to a resident’s primary home and its contents, and referred farmers to USDA for assistance.

Total damages to the area did not meet the threshold for aid for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Farwell said she was grateful for SBA’s response to the region, but found that many constituents have decided to hold off on taking out another unplanned expense.

“They were hoping that there’d be some kind of help to cover the costs, and that a loan would be the last resort,” Farwell said.