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Consumer Watch: Corps of Engineers' offices buried in HAP requests

Oct. 14, 2009 - 11:16AM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 14, 2009 - 11:16AM  |  
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Patience, patience ... at least for now.

If you're one of the 4,400 people who have already applied for assistance under the expanded Homeowners Assistance Program, what can you do to help the process move along now that the Army Corps of Engineers has the green light to begin processing applications?

Be patient. The phones are "ringing off the hook" at the Corps of Engineers' Savannah, Ga., district, spokeswoman Jeanne Hodge said. "This affects our ability to process the applications in the most expeditious manner."

Linda Fountain, chief of the acquisition section of the Savannah HAP office, said staff has been ramped up from three people to 30 to handle applications for the expanded program.

And if you've been contacted by HAP officials for more information, be sure to get it to them as quickly as possible.

"We've sent out a lot of letters, and a lot of these files are still not complete," Fountain said.

The Corps of Engineers began processing applications Oct. 1 for the $555 million in assistance approved under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The expanded HAP provides for partial reimbursement of losses for certain military personnel, surviving spouses and federal civilian employees who have been required to relocate and sell their primary residences at a loss in the housing market downturn.

Different eligibility requirements, benefits and priorities apply to those wounded, ill and injured relocating for medical reasons; surviving spouses; those affected by base realignment and closure; and those who made a permanent change-of-station move.

Visit http://hap.usace.army.mil">hap.usace.army.mil for complete eligibility and application information.

Remember that payments are still taxable as of this writing — and those taxes must be withheld up front. If that's going to affect your ability to close a sale, you might be able to apply for a loan to cover the difference.

As with any loan, that will depend on a lot of variables — and many of you will face some tough decisions.

Let me know what kind of help your bank or credit union is willing to give you in these situations.

Why go through CFC?

Air Force Capt. Paul McSpadden, at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., asks why members of the military community shouldn't donate directly to their chosen charities rather than through the Combined Federal Campaign, because CFC takes a percentage of each donation to cover its own expenses.

You absolutely can donate directly to charities and ensure they get a higher percentage of your donation.

The percentage spent on expenses varies from one area to another. For example, CFC Overseas spent 12.3 percent on administrative costs last year, said Lou Torchia, voluntary campaign management office director for the Defense Department. That is slightly higher than the national CFC average because of the overseas campaign's wide geographic dispersal and its higher transportation costs to move materials and pledges from across the globe, Torchia said.

But for one option of the overseas campaign — the family support and youth program — 100 percent of donations go directly to those organizations. That option is only available overseas.

"We need donations from the public," said Jim Weiskopf, spokesman for the nonprofit Fisher House Foundation.

"CFC is doing all the marketing for us," he said. "Yes, we'd get more money if somebody donated directly to us, but for a military-related charity, this is a great way for us to reach" military and federal civilian personnel.

Some things to consider:

• Donating by payroll deduction allows you to spread the amount over the year.

• When you donate by credit card online, the charity must pay a transaction fee to the credit card company, usually around 2 percent to 3 percent of the donation. Donations by check (or CFC payroll deduction) do not incur those fees.

• The more money pledged to a charity, the bigger that charity's cut of a pot of extra dollars from undesignated pledges. CFC charities get a percentage of the undesignated pledges in the ratio in which they receive designated pledges. For example, if a charity receives 5 percent of the total amount pledged in a particular campaign, it would receive, in addition, 5 percent of the undesignated pledges.

• By donating directly to a charity, you can request that the charity spend your contribution on a specific program. When donating through CFC to that charity, you don't have that option.

Questions? Comments? Contact staff writer kjowers@militarytimes.com?subject=Question from ArmyTimes.com reader">Karen Jowers at kjowers@militarytimes.com">kjowers@militarytimes.com.

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