Moms

Time running out for tropical storm victims to apply for federal loans

ARLINGTON -- After the state of Texas' disaster declaration for Tropical Storm Hermine was turned down, Arlington residents were left with only one option for federal assistance -- applying for Small Business Administration loans.

But it appears that few are taking advantage of the disaster loan program, and roughly half of those who apply are turned down.

As of noon Friday, only 24 applications had been filed in Tarrant County. Of those, 10 had been declined, nine had been approved, three had been withdrawn and two were still being processed.

Angela Johnson was one of those rejected.

Her family lived in one of the 68 units at the Willows of Shady Valley condominiums in west Arlington that were inundated during the Sept. 8 storm. The floodwaters also damaged 129 Arlington houses.

"We lost our car," said Johnson, 32. "We lost our furniture. We lost a lot of our clothes. We had to put money down for a car. We had to get it because my husband was on the verge of losing his job."

Her husband, Christopher, and her two teenage children lived in an Arlington extended-stay motel for six weeks before moving to the Brazos Park Apartments on the other side of Arlington. They ran through their savings of $1,500 in a matter of weeks.

But Johnson was turned down for a loan, and her appeal was also rejected. She is looking for a job while her husband works at a group home.

When she applied, Johnson knew her family wouldn't qualify for the maximum $40,000 available to renters, but she was shocked that they didn't qualify for a lower amount.

"You don't have to give me $40,000, give me $5,000 so I can pay people back," Johnson said. "It hurts that program ain't helping nobody."

SBA spokesman Ben Raju, who couldn't discuss the specifics of Johnson's case, said that the program isn't a handout, and that applicants must be able to repay the money.

"There are some cases where people are not able to sustain additional debt," Raju said. "We're not a bank. We have much more flexible standards, but we're also stewards of taxpayer dollars."

Statewide, 85 applications have been made, with 37 being declined and 27 approved. Twelve are still being processed, and nine have been withdrawn.

Raju said the number of loan applications -- and the approval rate -- typically increase the closer it gets to the deadline to apply. For this disaster, homeowners and renters have a Jan. 10 deadline while businesses can apply until Aug. 9.

But in-person application ends this week. The SBA Disaster Loan Center, which is at the Resource Connection of Tarrant County, 2300 Circle Drive in Fort Worth, will close its doors at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

The SBA disaster declaration includes Tarrant, Bell and Williamson counties, where storm damage was the most severe. It also includes the neighboring counties of Johnson, Parker, Wise, Denton, Dallas, Ellis, Bastrop, Burnet, Coryell, Falls, Lampasas, Lee, McLennan, Milam and Travis.

Under the loan program, homeowners may borrow up to $200,000 for residential damage, and renters may apply for up to $40,000 for personal property losses.

Applicants can also apply by calling the SBA's Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 (or 800-877-8339 for the hearing-impaired); e-mailing disastercustomerservice@sba.gov; or visiting SBA's website, www.sba.gov/services/disasterassistance.

Disaster victims can also use SBA's Electronic Loan Application via the secure website https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela.

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698

  Comments