Sonoma County residents who are wildfire victims are now eligible to apply for federal financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration.

The amendment made Thursday to a presidential disaster declaration makes such assistance available to individuals as well as business owners in Sonoma County. FEMA said damage assessments are continuing in other nearby counties and could be expanded.

The agency will open a relief center today on the first floor of The Press Democrat building in downtown Santa Rosa. The center, located at 427 Mendocino Ave., will provide victims of North Coast fires a one-stop shop for obtaining personal documents, filing insurance claims, obtaining a driver’s license and other items.

Representatives of local, county, state and federal governments will be available.

Residents — even those who are covered by homeowner, commercial and auto policies at the time of the disaster — are urged to apply online at or by phone at 800-621-3362.

Applicants will be asked for their Social Security number, address of the damaged primary residence, description of the damage, insurance information coverage, telephone number, an address where they are receiving mail and a bank account and routing number for receiving direct deposit of funds.

Depending on their needs, residents could receive up to $34,000 in FEMA disaster grants to provide for temporary housing, essential home repairs and losses that are not covered under personal property or homeowner policies.

The grants do not have to be paid back and are considered nontaxable income that does not affect eligibility for Social Security, Medicaid or other federal benefits.

County residents are also eligible for low-rate SBA loans to pay for costs that are not covered by insurance, or for those who find themselves under-insured on a claim. Homeowners are eligible for a loan of up to $200,000 at a rate of 1.75 percent to make repairs. Residents also can apply for personal property loans of up $40,000, which also includes automobiles covered under policies that don’t include comprehensive insurance.

Small-business owners whose properties have incurred physical damage can be eligible for loans of up to $2 million at a .3 percent interest rate. Private nonprofit groups can apply for loans at a 2.5 percent rate.

The SBA loan period is over 30 years. All loan applicants must be credit-worthy and show proof that they can pay back the loan.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or