Aulton Vann Jr., 57, Pascagoula, Miss. Married, owner of an insured beachfront home worth approximately $500,000.
Aulton Vann Jr. is by nature a gregarious salesman with a positive view of life, but he’s having a hard time staying positive about what he sees as capriciousness by the federal government in how it doles out assistance to victims of Hurricane Katrina.
“FEMA is a joke, and you can put that in print,” the longtime insurance agent said emphatically during an interview to check his progress in rebuilding his home and business, both of which were wiped out by the storm. ”… They gave me the $2,000 (emergency assistance), but when they were going to give out the living assistance — $2,300 — I was disqualified because I had insurance, even though my policy won’t give me any living expenses.”
He said that the agency also penalizes people who worked hard all their lives in distributing the trailers that are serving as temporary living quarters for many hurricane victims.
“I know of 40 elderly couples that have been waiting over two months for a FEMA trailer,” he said. “But if you’re a dopehead or you’re homeless, you’re in good shape, they’ll get you a trailer right away.”
Vann also came away frustrated when he looked into applying for a Small Business Administration loan to help rebuild his offices in downtown Pascagoula.
‘They're not helping the small businessman’
“With no flood insurance, I was going to try and get a little assistance … but they’re not helping the small businessman at all,” he complained. “We got a letter saying that if you had real good credit, they would loan you money at 6.4 percent, but if you could not get credit, they would loan you money at 2.65 percent.”
In addition to dealing with the government, Vann has had his hands full trying to help his clients — many of whom did not carry flood insurance since they were not living in areas that were considered prone to flooding — collect on their policies. Most of them have now seen their adjusters but are running into bottlenecks on payouts.
"It’s easy for me to talk to people and explain insurance terminologies, but the problem we’re having now is getting money to them," he said. "It’s hard to tell a man who saw his adjuster a month ago why he hasn’t got any money yet."
Despite such aggravations, Vann has made good progress in getting his business back up to full speed by shifting his operation into a damaged office complex nearby that he renovated. He did so by taking out a new loan to supplement the relatively small payoff he received from his insurance company, since he, too, didn’t have flood insurance.
He now has a contractor scheduled to knock down his old offices early next month, and hopes to move back into a new building on the site in early February.
Rebuilding the beachfront home that Katrina leveled will take quite a bit longer.
“We got the lot cleared away … the yard cleaned and a mobile home pulled on the lot,” he said. “… After Dec. 1, we’ll probably get things rolling. … I’ve got to concentrate on that office right now.”
Vann is also coming to realize that rebuilding does not equate with replacing.
“We’re not going to be able to put back what we had,” he said. “The house was paid off, but now I’m going to have two mortgages on my commercial buildings and one on the house. The money has to stop somewhere.”