When you call the Anna Maria Island Inn, you’re likely to get a recorded message. It’s polite and friendly, but essentially tells you that if you leave a message, you probably won’t get a call back. The voice mail box is full anyway.
The beachfront hotel in Bradenton Beach is a mom-and-pop kind of place (actually owned by two men) that has just 14 units, but on Friday it was receiving about 300 calls an hour from people looking for rooms.
It’s a nice place, and a lot of the other hotels and motels on Anna Maria Island were still without power through much of last week, so rooms on the island were at a premium. But the calls were mostly coming from people who had been displaced from their homes by Hurricane Irma who are getting aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help pay for temporary lodging.
Of all the hotels and motels in Manatee and Sarasota counties, the Anna Maria Island Inn, Homewood Suites in Sarasota and The Capri at Siesta seemingly are the only ones that participate in the FEMA program. All were full for this weekend, largely because of the FEMA program.
The beachfront hotel in Bradenton Beach has just 14 units, but on Friday it was receiving about 300 calls an hour from people looking for rooms.
Qualified people get up to $125 a night from FEMA to pay for a hotel room.
Louis Najmy, the co-owner of the Anna Maria Island Inn, said he and his partner Court Zoller found out about the program in 2005 and became part of it then, They signed up again when Hurricane Irma was a distant threat.
“It’s just a way of helping the community and helping business,” Najmy said.
Zoller thinks more hotels would sign up for the program if they knew about it.
“I think lack of awareness is the main thing,” he said.
Some hotels may be dissuaded from participating by the paper work involved, but Najmy said that shouldn’t be an issue.
“It’s not an inordinate amount,” he said. “Considering that it’s a federal reimbursement program, I’m really surprised at how efficient it is.”
Zoller said it takes a few seconds for hotels to sign up for the program through the FEMA website (FEMA.gov), and that the check-in process for guests who have been qualified for the program is simple.”
I guarantee you that every hotel room in Manatee County could be filled up at $125 a night, at least,” Zoller said. “If you want to get more than that, the guest pays it, so you’re not losing out. We really need more hotels to sign up.”
The FEMA program is set to expire Sept. 23, but Najmy and Zoller both said they expect the agency to renew it. The 2005 program was renewed several times, Najmy said, and more people are displaced by Irma than by the hurricanes 12 years ago.
Meanwhile, the Anna Maria Island Inn is at capacity. Usually this time of year, it’s full on weekends but has vacancies on weekdays.
“What’s unusual now is that we’re full during the week,” Najmy said.
How to apply
To apply for FEMA assistance, go to fema.gov/apply-assistance or distasterassistance.org. You’ll need to provide your Social Security number, the address of the location where the damage occurred, your current mailing address and telephone number, insurance information, total household annual income, routing and account number for your checking or savings account (to allow FEMA to directly transfer disaster assistance funds into your bank account and a description of your disaster-caused damage and losses).
To find a hotel that participates in the FEMA reimbursement program, go to femaevachotels.com/index.php.