Monday is the last day for residents affected by the Northern California wildfires to seek financial assistance from the federal government, including loans that could help property owners rebuild homes lost in October’s historic disaster.
By Monday, fire victims must have registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and applied for a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration, if they have been directed toward that option. Officials are encouraging everyone affected by the fires to register for federal assistance, even if they have insurance and even if they think they won’t need any help, in order to keep the option available.
“The deadline is really critical, because we don’t have any knowledge at this point of an extension,” said Brandi Richard, a FEMA public affairs officer. “There’s so many different aspects of assistance that we can provide.”
Sonoma County fire victims can register with FEMA online, over the phone or in person at one of the two disaster recovery centers in the area: one in downtown Santa Rosa at The Press Democrat building and the other in the Sonoma Valley at the Hanna Boys Center. Richard said FEMA doesn’t have a date set for when either center will close permanently, even after the Monday deadline passes.
Registering for federal aid can provide numerous benefits to local fire victims, including more than $30,000 in grants from FEMA and up to $200,000 in loans for home rebuilding from the SBA.
“We’re finding a lot of folks that have insurance coverage of X-hundred thousand dollars, and they go about and find what their costs are going to be to rebuild and it’s more than that,” said SBA spokesman Bill Koontz. “This is exactly where our program comes in. We can loan them that extra hundred thousand dollars they didn’t get from their insurance company that their contractor is asking for.”
The SBA can also loan homeowners or renters as much as $40,000 to help cover personal property losses. Businesses can receive as much as $2 million, even if they suffered no physical damage — the SBA covers economic losses as well.
Not everyone who applies for an SBA loan will be eligible to receive one. The process is akin to seeking a loan for a home or new car, meaning fire victims will need acceptable credit and enough income to afford loan payments.
But the SBA refers everyone who doesn’t receive a loan back to FEMA, and it can only do that for victims who apply by the deadline.
“Even if you don’t want a loan or don’t think you can afford one, put in your loan application with SBA anyway, because that might open doors for you to get more grant money,” Koontz said. “And if SBA approves a loan, you’re not obligated to take it.”
Already, FEMA has approved about $8.2 million in aid to assist Sonoma County fire victims, according to Richard. The agency has processed more than 16,200 registrations in the county so far and has approved more than 3,200 of those, she said.
The SBA, meanwhile, has approved nearly 510 of the more than 2,000 loan applications it has received from home and business owners in Sonoma County, resulting in more than $68.5 million in authorized aid. Businesses that experienced physical damage must apply for an SBA loan by Monday’s deadline, but if they are seeking aid for economic losses only, they have until July 12 to apply.