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December 12, 2017
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Four days left to register for FEMA aid following October firestorm

  • The American Flag hangs from all that is left of a home on Pacific Heights Dr. in Santa Rosa after the fire whipped through the neighborhood.

By: Katherine Minkiewicz
December 8, 2017

Correction: A previous version of the article stated that the SBA gives out loans to farms as well as small businesses, however, this was an incorrectly aqcuired fact and the SBA only gives out loans to homeowners, renters and small businesses. They do not give out loans to farms.

FEMA and officials from the U.S. Small Business Administration are sending out a slew of reminders and press releases in an effort to remind victims of the devastating October firestorm, that only four days remain to register for federal aid. The deadline to apply for a disaster recovery loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration and to apply for aid from FEMA is Dec. 11.

William Lindsey of FEMA media relations says it’s important for those who may have sustained any damages to their property to apply for the federal aid and other much needed recovery resources. Families or individuals from either Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, Yuba, Butte, Nevada and Orange Counties who suffered damage or losses in several of the large October wildfires, should register.

“If they sustained losses during the incident period for the California wildfires from Oct. 8 to Oct. 30 they can register for FEMA for recovery resources,” Lindsey said of those who are eligible for aid.

These recovery resources include aid that can cover gaps or claims that insurance cannot cover, as well as assistance to cover various short-term costs such as home repairs, temporary housing, damaged wells or septic systems and interim housing costs.

“We have all types of programs and transitional sheltering programs and also provide a place where people can live if they’ve lost their home. We also have our volunteer agencies. If you sustain any medical or dental or need any funeral resources, we have those as well. And then we have our other needs assistance programs. A lot of times whether you’re insured or not, and if your insurance only takes you so far you can come back and tell us what you need,” Lindsey said.

He also clarified that even if you have insurance you can still apply. “A lot of people can get that mixed up.” 

Lindsey explained how those affected by the fire can register, “They can call 1-800-621-3362, or they can go to their website, disasterassistance.gov. We also have an app for apple as well as android phones, you can go to the app store and put in ‘FEMA app’ and it’s no charge and it will let you be aware of any type of critical information which you may need.”

If you want to speak to someone in person then you can visit the registration assistance center in the Press Democrat building at 427 Mendocino Ave. When registering for assistance either in person or online, officials will ask for your social security number, address of the damaged prior residence, a description of the damage, contact information, information about insurance coverage, an address where mail can be received and a bank routing number and account information, according to a press release from FEMA and Cal OES.

Lindsey says FEMA needs all this pertinent information in order to, “Ascertain what they need and get the ball rolling.” 

After the registration process Lindsey said depending on each individual case the time it takes to receive aid can vary, however, for some applicants it has taken as little as three-four days.

“It’s an individual case by case scenario so I can’t put a blanket (time) on it. This has been a large disaster recovery in a very fluid and fast moving situation,” he said.

So far over 24,000 have registered for FEMA aid of which 16,105 of that number are Sonoma residents, according to Lindsey. It has also disbursed a total of $12.6 million to the Individual Housing Program in response to the fires. 

FEMA is also working alongside the U.S. SBA to help provide low-interest loans and long-term disaster recovery loans for homeowners, renters and small businesses that are eligible for the loan.

George Camp, public information officer for the SBA said it is imperative that people know about the loan options in case they are in need of further assistance.

“The goal is to make sure that everybody understands that the small business administration offers federal disaster low-interest loans to not only businesses of all sizes but also to private non-profit organizations, homeowners and renters. Sometimes our business title leads people to assume that if they are a homeowner or renter then they don’t qualify. So we want to make sure they understand that they can,” Camp said.

Businesses can borrow up to $2 million to address and repair damage, homeowners can borrow up to $200,000 and an additional $40,000 for replacement of personal property and renters are allowed to borrow up to $40,000, according to Camp. So far the administration has approved $74 million in loans following the deadly and destructive California wildfires.

Camp said many people are acquiring SBA loans in order to cover their uninsured losses. “For whatever reason there may be a shortfall in the insurance coverage, so people are using it to cover uninsured damages,” Camp explained. “We also want to be able to help people finish out their repairs and we’ve been seeing a lot of positive feedback (in regard to loan aid).”

Lindsey said it is “imperative” that when filling out the application for FEMA aid in its entirety because people tend to miss out on the information about SBA loans. “A lot of people forego the SBA piece and unfortunately, that is one of our policies. You have to fill it out and we want you to fill it out because we want you to know of the entirety of your recover resources. If you don’t want a loan, you can still come back to FEMA and tell us what you need… Let us know what you need and we can find out what you are eligible for and if you need help, that is what we will provide,” Lindsey continued.

Since the Sonoma and Napa wildfires were contained, it was determined that around 8,889 structures were destroyed in the sweeping fires, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. 4,655 of those were homes and 94 were commercial buildings.

The State of California Employment Development Department is also reminding individuals that the deadline to apply for disaster unemployment assistance has been extended until Dec. 18. DUA will provide temporary unemployment benefits to “jobless workers” and those who were self-employed, “Whose job or work hour losses were as a direct result of the fires,” the notice states.

Those who are eligible can receive up to $450 a week for 26 weeks. Director of EED, Patrick W. Henning emphasized in the same statement that even though the deadline has been extended, people should apply as soon as they can to ensure they get the aid they need.

“We encourage anyone whose unemployment was affected by the devastating wildfires to apply for assistance as soon as possible. These benefits provide financial support in a time of need,” Henning said.

To register for federal aid visit: diasasterassistance.gov, to register for an SBA loan, visit: disasterloan.sba.gov., and to register for unemployment assistance, visit: eapply4ui.edd.ca.gov.