Silver Spring fire victims get financial recovery help

SILVER SPRING, Md. — Banking documents, a baby’s birth records, a Social Security card. For some of the families displaced after last month’s deadly explosion and fire at a Silver Spring apartment complex, Thursday’s workshop at the Long Branch Community Center was the first chance to sit down with agencies from across the state and the county to get the help they need to regain their financial footing.

The event, advertised as a financial recovery workshop, was organized by the Maryland Comptroller’s office.

Joe Shapiro, with the Comptroller’s Office said the services available were being offered to the entire community.

“This tragic accident has spurred this particular workshop, but these types of resources are available to the entire community, and we want to let people know about that.”

Shapiro said reassembling financial information can be daunting for anyone.

“We offer tax assistance, if you have a tax ID number or need to get a tax ID number, we can help you with that.”

Lois Todd Hunter was volunteering to serve as a translator for the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection. Many of the attendees — and those affected by the fire and explosion — are Spanish speakers.

“What people are mostly concerned about are lost documents. They’re really anxious about driver’s licenses, high school diplomas and their green cards,” she said.

Hunter said it was gratifying to be able to pitch in and help.

“In my experience not everybody trusts that government is on their side, and this is an opportunity for clients to understand that all these organizations are on their side,” she said.

One woman, who identified herself simply as Irma, explained she and her family were burned out of their apartment. She said that the financial help was welcome, but one service she’s particularly interested in is trauma counseling.

Her apartment was gutted by the explosion and fire that killed seven people at the apartment complex in the middle of the night. Irma, who has a 4-year-old daughter said her daughter still has many sleepless nights, and when they enter almost any building, her daughter frequently asks her, “Mami, will this place explode? Are we safe here?”

Among the agencies offering assistance toward financial recovery is the Maryland CASH Campaign, a nonprofit that focuses on personal financial education. Sue Rogan, director of Financial Education for the program, said anyone can get free assistance, including the chance to work one-on-one with a financial coach with an online tool.

The Office of Consumer Protection also offered scam alerts. Director of the office Eric Friedman explains that scammers often pop up in areas after a disaster, eager to take advantage of people who may be uncertain of their rights.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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