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California needs to be prepared

“When fires strike or the earth shakes, CA needs to be prepared.” tweeted Gavin Newsom, the Governor of California, after a barrage of atmospheric rivers hit California with unusual violence in late December to January. It turned entire neighborhoods into lakes, destroyed homes and farms, and killed many people across the state.

It has been “one of the deadliest disasters in the history of our state,” said Brian Ferguson, California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services spokesman.

“We’re known for our wildfires and earthquakes. We hadn’t really thought that we would have a major flooding incident in California” said Diana Crofts-Pelayo, the Assistant Director, Crisis Communication & Public Affairs, Cal OES(Office of Emergency Services). She was speaking at a January 31st Ethnic Media Services (EMS) briefing, where experts discussed a pathway to recovery that could help California build a a safer and more resilient future.

Our climate is changing – we have to change with it.

49 California Counties approved for disaster relief

During any natural disaster, CAL OES works with the local government to guage the unique damage and extent of impacts incurred locally. As response turns to recovery, CAL OES turns to the federal government for additional help which includes The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Small Business Administration (SBA).

The emergency declaration covered 49 California counties, while FEMA designated nine counties for individual assistance. They include Calaveras, Merced, Monterey, Sacramento, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz. More counties may be added as additional assessments are completed.

How to apply for assistance

Individuals can register for FEMA and may be eligible for assistance under the Individuals and Household Programs (IHP). 

IHP offers both housing assistance and needs assistance. Under housing assistance, survivors may be eligible for rental assistance, temporary lodging, repair assistance or replacement assistance.

Under other needs assistance – people can apply for replacement of property, personal, and property damage, and receive assistance with transportation and repairs. Assistance also will cover funeral costs, medical and dental costs, childcare and other miscellaneous costs.  The current maximum for each category of assistance this fiscal year is up to $41,000 per household. 

“This is for expenses or losses not covered by insurance,” explained Brian Bui, a Region 9 Emergency Management Specialist with FEMA.

Individuals can apply for assistance with FEMA in three ways:

  • Call the FEMA Hotline at 800-621-3362
  • apply online at DisasterAssistance.gov, or,
  • visit a local Disaster Recovery Center. There is one-on-one, in person multilingual help available at the disaster assistance centers for completing the application process.

There is a deadline to apply – March 16, 2023 for all designated counties. And assistance is provided for up to 18 months after the date of declaration or July 15, 2024.

Who is eligible to apply?

In order to be eligible for FEMA assistance, a survivor must meet the general conditions of eligibility, which includes 3 categories – being a US citizen, non-national citizen, or a qualified alien. A green card holder or a resident with a H1-B visa is also a qualified alien, and eligible for assistance.

The applicant must have proper ID and prove that they were occupying the primary residence at the time of disaster.

Small Business Administration (SBA) Loans

With interest rate for home loans as low as 2.313% and for businesses at 3.305%, “SBA disaster loans are the primary source of money to pay for repair or replacement or cost not fully covered by insurance or other compensation,” says Luis Santos Serrano, a Public Affairs Specialist in the US Small Business Administration Office of Disaster Recovery and Resiliency.

SBA offers federal low-interest disaster loans to businesses of all sizes, most private nonprofit organizations, homeowners and renters. Businesses of any size may borrow up to $2 million for the specific purpose to repair or replace the disaster property damage, called a physical disaster loan. 

If the business was impacted economically because of the floods and needed to close the doors, it can apply for a loan. Even small businesses, small businesses engaged in agriculture, and most private nonprofit organizations may also borrow to help meet disaster costs.  

If you’re a homeowner or a renter, FEMA may refer you to the SBA, explains Serrano.  Homeowners may borrow up to $200,000 to repair or replace their primary residence.  If a homeowner has additional homes that may be considered as businesses, they may apply as well. 

Homeowners and renters may borrow up to $40,000 to replace personal property, including vehicles.

The maximum years to repay this loan is 30 years.

How to apply fora SBA loan

Businesses can apply on their website, in person at any Disaster Recovery Center, email them at disastercustomerservice@sba.gov, or call 800-877-8339.

The fastest way that you can start the recovery process is to “submit your SBA disaster loan application, even if you’re not sure that you will need or want that loan” advises Serrano. He encourages applying for the loans through the disasterassistance.gov website by the March 16 deadline, which would enable applicants to later accept the loan if they decide to do so.

The SBA does have credit requirements like credit history and applicants must show the ability to repay the loans.

If the survivor applies to the SBA and is not approved for a loan, they may be referred back to FEMA Individual Assistance for their unmet Other Needs Assistance. This is to ensure applicants exhaust all other means (insurance, voluntary agencies etc.) before being made eligible for a FEMA grant.

Crofts-Pelayo assures Californians, “The state of California is committed to continuing our support to communities and maximizing the aid that comes in to help them recover from winter storms.”

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is the Donor Engagement Advisor at India Currents and Founder/Producer at desicollective.media. She brings her passion for community journalism and experience in fundraising, having...