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Basement flooding in Chicago Austin community

A basement in Chicago’s Austin community is pictured 24 hours after heavy storms dumped up to 9 inches of rainfall on some parts of the region and caused widespread flash flooding.

Ashlee Rezin

Cook County residents get $200 million in federal flood relief for summer rainstorms

More than $200 million in federal flood relief has been awarded to thousands of Cook County residents whose homes flooded earlier this summer.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency relief grants for homeowners and renters in Cook County were approved after President Joe Biden signed a federal disaster declaration in response to the damage wrought by record-setting rainstorms from June 29 through July 2.

The money can go toward expenses that aren’t covered by insurance, such as home repairs, temporary housing assistance and moving or storage expenses.

As of Monday, more than 60,000 applications have been approved since the application period opened on Aug. 15, according to FEMA’s website.

The deadline to apply for assistance has been extended to Oct. 30 from the original deadline of Oct. 16.

The amount of FEMA assistance granted for this summer’s flooding is the second-highest amount of aid provided for individual households in a federally declared disaster in Illinois since 2003, the earliest year for which data was available, according to a WBEZ analysis.

In 2010, the total aid amount granted topped $370 million after severe storms in late July and early August caused widespread flooding across multiple counties statewide.

Despite the millions of dollars in assistance granted countywide this year, for those who were hardest hit, the FEMA relief has been far from enough. Many are still in the throes of recovery from this summer’s floods.

“It was a disaster like one we had never seen before,” said Ald. Emma Mitts, 37th, whose own home repairs cost her roughly $40,000.

Mitts knows of several dozen constituents who still have mold in their homes and who are looking for contractors to provide estimates for repairs and clean up.

“I don’t think the financial relief that FEMA brought stands up to the amount of damage that was sustained by many of the residents,” said Ald. Chris Taliaferro, 29th.

After an applicant registers and is deemed qualified for assistance, FEMA completes a home inspection. Afterwards, the agency sends a letter with the exact amount of aid for which the applicant is eligible, said FEMA media relations specialist Larissa Hale.

Out of all approved applications, the average amount awarded was about $3,400, according to a WBEZ analysis.

“When you look at hot water heaters, furnaces, drywall, remediating mold, loss of other properties, washers, dryers, the average family probably sustained damage in the amount of $15,000 to $20,000,” said Taliaferro.

That was the case for Austin resident Trish Green, who hasn’t had a working furnace since her basement flooded with three feet of sewage water in July.

Green received roughly $3,000 in FEMA relief, but the cost to replace her furnace alone is $14,000. She’s had to use a space heater to keep warm with the recent dip in temperatures.

Green said the federal aid she received took too long to arrive. Many of her neighbors are seniors with disabilities who’ve had to live without hot water for months.

“I went to a community meeting, and it was very heartbreaking, really, because there are a lot of people, you know, that are less fortunate than myself, where they lost everything, meaning they’ve been bathing with cold water,” said Green.

Portage Park resident Kindy Kruller, whose basement flooded in July’s rainstorm, received nearly $2,000 from FEMA as a direct deposit in her bank account.

Kruller said it’s not enough to fully flood-proof her basement, which has flooded four times over the past two years.

“I still have this issue, but at least it’s something, right, and it’s a recognition,” Kruller said.

Both Kruller and Green were also referred to apply for a low-interest loan, offered through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in partnership with FEMA, to pay the remainder of their recovery costs not covered by FEMA’s grant. The SBA loans are open to homeowners and renters, not just business owners.

But many flood victims are low income or on fixed incomes and can’t pay back thousands of dollars in loans, said Taliaferro. About 60% of the aid went to Cook County households with incomes less than $60,000, according to a WBEZ analysis of FEMA data on the individuals and households program.

“The problem is, you’re already in a lower income community and a more underserved community and, unfortunately, many people are not in a position to even take out a loan, whether it’s low interest or no interest — it still has to be paid back,” said Taliaferro.

In the city of Chicago, as of Oct. 4, most of the FEMA assistance has gone to ZIP codes on the South and West sides, where reports of flooding from July’s storms were highest.

About one in every four basement flooding complaints to the city’s 311 hotline in July came from the Austin neighborhood.

In suburban Cook County, the ZIP codes that received the highest amounts of FEMA aid were in west suburban municipalities like Cicero, Berwyn and Maywood and far south suburban cities like Calumet City and Chicago Heights.

The 60804 ZIP code, which covers Cicero, has received more than $32 million — by far, the highest amount of FEMA assistance for any ZIP code in Cook County, according to a WBEZ analysis.

As of Monday, about $178 million of the grants were for housing assistance and about $31 million were for other essential needs such as medical expenses or replacing damaged appliances, according to FEMA’s website.

Some say FEMA needs to extend the deadline to apply for aid past Monday, Oct. 16 as there are still many who need assistance that haven’t yet applied or completed the application process.

“Monday is too short of a time,” said Mitts. “Just because they didn’t meet a deadline, are we going to just shut them out altogether?”

How to apply for FEMA assistance

Cook County residents who experienced property damage from the severe storms and flooding from June 29 through July 2 of this year are eligible to apply for a FEMA flood relief grant through the Individuals and Households Program (IHP).

Residents can apply for assistance at, over the phone by calling the FEMA helpline at 800-621-3362 or in-person at one of several disaster recovery centers throughout Cook County listed below.

Applicants need to provide the following information, according to Larissa Hale, a FEMA media relations specialist:

  • Phone number

  • Current address and address at the time of the flood

  • Social security number

  • A general description of the damage and losses

  • The names of everyone in the home

  • Annual household income before taxes at the time of the disaster

  • Any insurance information if available

  • Bank information if direct deposit is how you chose to receive the funds, otherwise the funds will be sent with a check

If you are eligible for assistance, after registration, a FEMA representative will contact you within five to seven days to schedule a time for an inspector to come to your home.

After the inspection, Hale said it typically takes about seven days for FEMA to make a decision on how much aid the agency will provide.

To qualify for FEMA assistance residents must be a U.S. citizen, non-U.S. citizen national or qualified non-citizen. Mixed-immigration status families are still eligible, if one member of the household is eligible. More information about FEMA aid and immigration status can be found here.

FEMA disaster recovery center locations

FEMA specialists at disaster recovery centers can help residents apply or answer any questions. Find the disaster recovery center closest to you here.

Washington Square Mall (Austin North)

4851 West North Ave., Chicago

Hours: Mon-Sun 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

Morton College (Cicero)

3801 South Central Ave., Cicero

Hours: Mon-Sat 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

Columbus Square Fieldhouse (Austin South)

500 South Central Ave., Chicago

Hours: Mon-Fri 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.

Saturday 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m.

Berwyn Grove Ave Parking Garage (Berwyn)

3310 Grove Ave., Berwyn

Hours: Mon-Sun 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

Two temporary disaster recovery centers will be open from Oct. 10 through Oct. 14.

Chicago Heights Public Library

25 W. 15th St., Chicago Heights

Hours: Tues-Sat 8 a.m.- 5 p.m.

Toman Branch, Chicago Public Library

2708 S. Pulaski Rd., Chicago

Hours: Tues-Sat 8:30 a.m.- 5 p.m.

Amy Qin is WBEZ’s data reporter. Follow her @amyqin12.

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