February 27, 2024
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SBA, FEMA dole out millions in storm recovery efforts

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Members from FEMA, the SBA and local officials gathered in Santa Barbara on Feb. 2. (Courtesy Photo)

With the near-record storm behind the Central Coast, all that is left now is to pick up the pieces.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration have been the ones trying to accomplish that goal, teaming up to provide the tri-counties with a slew of help.

“Partnering with FEMA and the Small Business Administration Office of Recovery and Resilience opens up our federal low-interest loans to homeowners and renters, not just businesses and nonprofits,” Zabrina Tipton, a public information officer for the SBA, said during a coordinated meeting in Santa Barbara on Feb. 2.

“If somebody is working with FEMA, FEMA will refer them to us if this is the direction that they need to head to, then the Small Business Administration works with the disaster survivor, whether it’s a homeowner or renter or a business.”

Both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties sustained more than $100 million worth of damage from the January storms.

In a board of supervisors meeting in late January, Santa Barbara County official Kelly Hubbard told the board that of the $150 million worth of damage from the storm, about $83 million would need to be spent on debris removal alone.

She added that agricultural damage was still being added up, but it was already barreling over $35 million.

In Ventura County, which only received a major disaster declaration on Feb. 2, opening them up to help from FEMA and the SBA, officials have stated damage topped $30 million.

But help is coming to those who need it.

As of Feb. 7, 33 home and business loans were approved for a total of $1.3 million in Santa Barbara County, according to George Kostyrko, the public information officer for the Office of Disaster Recovery and Resilience for the SBA, told the Business Times in an email.

More than 1,000 residents have applied for storm-related assistance in Santa Barbara County and the $1.2 million that has been approved is low compared to the number of applicants and should increase over the coming weeks.

In San Luis Obispo County, 78 home and business loans were approved for a total of $3.3 million and in neighboring Monterey County, 14 home and business loans were approved for a total of $410,400, according to Kostyrko.

Statistics were not yet provided for Ventura County, as they received that late designation.

Disaster recovery sites have been available in all three counties, where small business owners, homeowners and other people who have been afflicted by the storm can get answers to questions and receive help they need.

The SLO County recovery center is in the Veteran’s Hall in SLO at 801 Grand Avenue and will be closing on Feb. 14.

Ventura County was just recently added to the list of major disaster locations as well on Feb. 1, and its recovery center has been up and running at the Ventura County Fairgrounds since Feb. 7.

Santa Barbara County has disaster recovery sites at Direct Relief and one at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, with both closing on Feb. 15 and Feb. 26, respectively.

On Feb. 2, Santa Barbara County leadership, members from the SBA, FEMA, the chamber of commerce and more gathered at the Direct Relief office to aid people.

According to the SBA, individual homeowners can receive up to $40,000 for appliances, furnishings, clothing or a vehicle.
Outright homeowners can receive an additional $200,000 for repairs to their homes.

Businesses can receive up to $2 million for physical damage and or economical damage. The SBA’s deadline for physical damage is mid-March right now, and for economic damages extends to October.

The economic need must be evident from Dec. 27 or later.
“Look at your finances, look at what’s being offered and see what you need,” said Tipton.

“Never disqualify yourself because you feel like your damage isn’t as bad as the next person’s. Everybody should come in, find out what all the resources are here.”

Renee Bafalis, a media relations specialist for FEMA, emphasized people who have suffered damage, whether they are underinsured or uninsured should still apply because they might still be able to assist with rent, personal property losses, etc.

“If you’ve had childcare costs or medical or dental expenses, or even funeral expenses, as a result of the storms, we might be able to assist you in that regard,” she said.

Bafalis added that the SBA is more equipped to help people get back to where they were before the storm hit because they can offer low-interest disaster assistance loans.

“We still need folks to go through their insurance company, at least at first, because we cannot duplicate what your insurance already covers,” said Bafalis. “Many times, you’ll receive a determination letter from us, if we’re waiting to hear from the insurance company as to what they will cover. We may tell you at that time, you’re ineligible for our assistance because we have to wait until your insurance comes through.”

Bafalis said this shouldn’t deter those seeking disaster relief. In fact, they should read the fine print as closely as possible to see if they’ve merely been told to wait on their insurance.

If they are struggling to interpret what the determination letter advises them to do, they are encouraged to drop by the disaster relief center to have someone from FEMA explain the finer mechanics of the terminology to them.

However, those looking to do that will need their FEMA registration ID so that workers can check the status of their claim.

The relief center offers several different services in several different languages, so claimants should feel free to drop by for all information readily available to them.

Small businesses and nonprofits of all three counties are encouraged to visit disasterassistance.gov or call 1 (800) 621-3362 for assistance. People should also visit disasterloanassistance.sba.gov/ela/s/ to receive help from the Small Business Administration.

People who have suffered home damage should seek help from FEMA. FEMA’s individual assistance program may help with costs that include temporary rental and lodging expenses, home repairs, clean up and personal property losses.

More information is available at fema.gov/assistance/individual.