FEMA application process difficult for ‘functionally illiterate’ Florence County adults

FLORENCE COUNTY, SC (WBTW) – As the deadline to apply for flood assistance quickly approaches, FEMA, SBA and American Red Cross representatives have run into a new problem.

Many people still need to apply for FEMA or write an appeal letter, but they can’t read or write.

According to the Florence Area Literacy Council, 33% of adults in Florence County are functionally illiterate and can’t read above a fifth grade reading level, making it difficult to understand the FEMA application or to write an appeal letter.

That’s why Reverend Henry Morris from Johnsonville asked FEMA representatives to train his church members to help those in the community better understand their letters.

“We’re going to go over that letter with you piece by piece, paragraph by paragraph and explain to you exactly what it means and from there on just work with you. If we have to work with you twenty minutes or thirty minutes for you to understand it, that’s what we’re going to do,” said Morris.

Sheena Genertte was one of the members at White Chapel Holiness Church in Johnsonville that was trained by FEMA to help people in the community.

“People are afraid to come forward and say ‘look, I don’t know what this means, I don’t understand this, what do I do?’,” said Genertte.

She says that’s why she’s willing to go anywhere to help those who need help understanding their FEMA letter.

“I have gone to people’s homes, I have met them in the parking lot, I have done whatever it is I needed to do to assist them. So, it doesn’t matter where you are, what level, if you need assistance, please come out and get some help,” said Genertte.

When you walk in White Chapel Holiness Church, you’re given a checklist asking for your state issued ID, your denial letter from FEMA, and your contractor’s estimate. It”s then that you’ll sit down with one of the church members who will talk through the letter with you.

“Don’t be embarrassed. I mean, if you need help, that’s what we’re here for,” said Morris.

FEMA representatives say several volunteer groups around the Pee Dee and along the Grand Strand have set up similar confidential writing conferences.

If you’d like help with your FEMA letter, you can also contact FEMA customer service at 1 (800) 621-3362 to talk one-on-one with a FEMA agent.

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