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Basketball brackets and federal help

I've got my bracket filled out, have you? Better hurry. The NCAA basketball tournament starts today.

All across the country office pools have started, and college basketball know-nothings are all of a sudden experts on who's going to win the Big Dance.

I can't say much. This is my favorite sport, and March Madness is my favorite time of year. I keep up with college basketball like no one else I know, but that doesn't necessarily transfer into bracket buster success.

I finished dead last in my 2006 fantasy tournament pick'em group thanks to the epic George Mason run to the Final Four and Florida's surprise championship. Maybe I'll have a shot now that Mason didn't make the field this year and Florida is expected to do well.

There are always surprises, though, and there are so many good teams that could win it all. At best, my "expert" opinion amounts to an educated assumption. And we all know what happens when we assume.

On a more serious note, I was glad to see the federal government kick in some funding toward local tornado victims. There were so many people with damaged cars and homes from the March 1 storm who had no idea what to do next.

Unfortunately there are evil folks out there hoping to cash in on the suffering. The Georgia and Federal Emergency Management Agencies were on hand at the Sweetwater gym attempting to steer storm victims in the right direction for help, and they tell us that those with damage need to watch out for fraud.

According to FEMA Spokesperson Rosemarie Hunter, the agency has handed out more than $372,780 in aid throughout all the affected Georgia counties. Nearly 70 McDuffie County residents registered for assistance at the center.

Some of their tips for hiring contractors include: get a written estimate, check references, ask for a proof of insurance, use licensed contractors, insist on a written contract, get guarantees in writing, obtain a building permit, make final payments after the work is finished and pay by check.

Those who rent may be eligible for loans up to $40,000 from the Small Business Administration to repair or replace property damaged by the storm. Homeowners may be eligible for loans up to $200,000 for home repairs, plus up to $40,000 to repair or replace other damaged personal property.

Disaster representatives will close the Sweetwater center at 6:30 p.m. today. Anyone with questions about what assistance the government has to offer should call 1-800-621-FEMA or visit - even after the center is closed.

Web posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007

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