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Emergency workers will help residents apply for aid

Upwards of 300 government emergency workers will be deployed to Western New York to help people apply for the aid they're eligible for in the wake of last month's devastating flooding, federal officials said Monday.

Some 238 of the workers already have been assigned to the flood-relief project, and the number is expected to eventually reach between 275 and 300, said Art Navarro, assistant external affairs officer at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"They'll be there as long as it takes to complete the mission" of helping local residents and businesses apply for federal disaster assistance, Navarro said.

Most of the workers will be sent from FEMA's Albany office, although others will come from the U.S. Small Business Administration and the state government, Navarro said.

The moves show that federal agencies are acting seriously in response to President Obama's declaration of a federal disaster after the flooding that devastated southern Erie, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties Aug. 9 and 10, said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.

"We asked FEMA to step in and send personnel to help residents, small businesses, hospitals, churches and nonprofits apply for aid," Schumer said. "This proves they've gotten our message and are stepping up to the plate."

Obama issued disaster declarations for the area earlier this month.

That means local residents could be eligible for temporary housing, rental assistance, unemployment benefits, crisis counseling and other benefits, Navarro said. Local businesses and municipalities damaged by the flooding also may be eligible for aid.

Those who think they may be eligible for aid should begin the process of applying by registering with FEMA at (800) 621-3362 or www.disasterassistance.gov.

The workers being sent to the Buffalo area include community relations representatives, small-business outreach officials and information technology experts, Navarro said.

The emergency workers will based at Mount Carmel School in Silver Creek, the Cattaraugus County Center in Little Valley and a mobile disaster recovery center on the Seneca Nation's Cattaraugus Reservation, Schumer's office said.

Most of the workers will help people fill out applications for aid, but hazard mitigation engineers will also travel to the area to help municipalities figure out ways to prevent future flooding.

FEMA already has awarded nearly $1.6 million to local residents, and between 85 percent and 90 percent of applications have been approved, the agency said last week.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com

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