FEMA Benefit Deadline Extended

FEMA is extending a deadline for benefit applications by a month in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to give the hurricanes' non-English-speaking victims more time to seek help, the agency said Friday. But the extension also affects anyone who suffered losses from the giant storm.  So far, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved 1.6 million applications, releasing $6.7 billion in aid to storm victims nationwide.

But the agency is worried that large numbers of Vietnamese and Spanish speaking victims from the three states that bore the brunt of the storms' destruction have not yet sought help because they don't understand the deadline. FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews said the deadline has been extended for 30 days, to April 10, ``to make sure we are able reach everyone who could possibly need our help.'' The deadline for applications from victims from the other 47 states is Saturday. The benefits include all aid for housing, funeral assistance, transportation and other services FEMA has supplied. In a related decision, the Small Business Administration also pushed back a Saturday deadline for victims in the three states to apply for federal loans to rebuild damaged businesses and homes, said spokeswoman Anne Marie Frawley.

The new deadline to apply for the SBA loans is also April 10. But House Democrats said that won't be long enough for at least 60,000 applicants who are still waiting to hear if their loans have been approved. In a letter to President Bush, 155 House Democrats said the deadline should be extended to Dec. 31 to avoid ``an additional hardship on communities that have already suffered enough.'' ``By extending the deadline, it will ensure that these businesses start creating jobs and that these economies are able to rebuild,'' said the letter, initiated by Rep. Nydia Velazquez of New York, the top Democrat on the House Small Business Committee.

Frawley said that the SBA is still waiting for thousands of applicants to provide additional information so their loan requests can be processed. The SBA has approved 85,653 loan applications, totally an estimated $6 billion.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press.)