Mapping The Money: VT Disaster Relief Fund Is Not Just For Irene

Aug 5, 2013

In the wake of Tropical Storm Irene a number of groups sprung up to help people recover. The largest is the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund.  The fund has distributed $3.4 million so far to help people rebuild.

While many recovery groups are wrapping up their work, the VDRF plans to stay active for future disasters.

The founders were thinking about forming the group even before Irene hit.

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In April and May of 2011 severe storms flooded at least half the counties in Vermont, resulting in a Presidential emergency declaration. A group of people in central Vermont began discussing the best way to help people hurt by that disaster.

“And then of course everything changed when Irene struck in late August,” recalled Doug Bishop, who chairs the Allocations Committee of the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund. “That certainly put into hyper-drive, if you will, the desire to move ahead and form a Disaster Relief Fund.”

Doug Bishop said the VDRF got started quickly before things were mapped out.

“We are building a bridge as we’re walking across it,” said Bishop. “We needed to start building that bridge, we needed to start recovery and we couldn’t wait we didn’t have every little detail nailed down in place, so we’re learning as we go along.”

So far the group has raised about $8 million. Its primary goal is to provide aid to people who have already sought help from other sources such as FEMA, but still need financial assistance to make their homes habitable.

“We can’t promise that people are going to feel like their life has not been interrupted,” said Bishop. “But if we can return that sense of normalcy, get people back in their homes, make sure they have they have potable water, make sure their septic is working, make sure they have what they need inside their home, that’s our goal and that’s where we step in and help out.”

The average grant from the VDRF is about $10,000. The biggest is $20,000.

There are no income eligibility requirements, but if someone has flood insurance or has other financial resources or is eligible for a loan then they may not be eligible for VDRF funding.

The Allocations Committee meets twice a week to consider cases. As Doug Bishop describes it, it’s a well-oiled machine.

“From when we hear a case, we offer a decision with seven days,” said Bishop. “And most often it’s within 24 hours.”

Many case managers and Long Term Recovery Committees say the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund is one of the easiest funds to work with.

Bishop says in other states there are few relief funds like this one for disasters.

And if there is, he says, the money is controlled by a governor. Bishop says being an independent nonprofit allows the VDRF to be flexible and adapt quickly.