SACRAMENTO, Calif. – More than $500 million in federal grants and loans has been disbursed to homeowners, renters and businesses in California since wildfires ravaged the area last November.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has awarded about $88.7 million in disaster assistance to individuals and households (about 90 percent of that in Butte County). Another $377 million in low-interest disaster home loans has been approved by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA); $40 million more in low-interest loans to businesses. And the State of California Employment Development Department has approved nearly $2 million for Disaster Unemployment Assistance, funded by FEMA.
Federal disaster assistance may include grants or low-interest loans to help qualified homeowners and renters with temporary housing, essential home repairs, personal property replacement, and serious disaster-related needs.
But the deadline for applying for help from FEMA and SBA has passed. Not all wildfire survivors who applied for assistance were qualified; others qualified for some aid, but for less than they needed.
Where can these survivors turn for help? Who can they call? Where can they go?
Surprisingly, the best answer to these questions is… the government!
Working both independently and in cooperation with FEMA, there are nearly two dozen cabinet departments and agencies – in state and federal government – offering scores of free services, programs and grants to California wildfire survivors and their families.
Among the government entities that may be of help are:
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
USDA Rural Development Disaster Assistance offers a number of programs to help wildfire survivors improve the quality of life in rural communities. Among the programs available to rural homeowners and rental tenants are:
Rural housing loans offer a subsidy to help reduce mortgage payments for a short time. Your family income determines the amount of the subsidy. You may use the loan to help you buy, build, repair, improve, or relocate your primary home. You may also use funds to buy and prepare sites, including water and sewer.
Rural Housing Repair Loans and Grants may be used to repair, improve, or modernize your home, or remove health and safety hazards. Loans are available in amounts of up to $20,000, grants of up to $7,500 (which may be combined with loans) are available to individuals over 62 years of age.
Rural rental housing and cooperative housing assistance is available in nearly every county in California.
To qualify for any of these programs, you must live in a rural area. For more information or to apply for these and other USDA programs, visit the document for USDA Rural Development
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Section 203(h)-insured loans can finance:
Section 203(h) Mortgage Insurance for Disaster Victims helps survivors in two ways:
• Buy or refinance a house and its rehabilitation costs with a single mortgage, or
• Finance the rehabilitation of the existing home.
Money may be used for rehabilitation work ranging from minor repairs to total reconstruction.
To qualify for Section 203(h) Mortgage Insurance for Disaster Victims, you must:
• Own a one-family home damaged or destroyed during the November 2018 wildfires, and
• Live in Butte, Los Angeles or Ventura county.
Section 203(k)-insured loans can finance:
Section 203(k) Rehabilitation Mortgage Insurance gives homebuyers and owners two different options:
• Residential section rehabilitation of a property that also has non-residential uses.
• Conversion of any size property to a one- to four-unit structure.
To qualify for Section 203(k) Rehabilitation Mortgage Insurance, you must:
• Be able to make monthly mortgage payments, and
• Be rehabilitating a home at least one year old.
To learn more, visit HUD’s website on Section 203. To apply, view this HUD website to find an approved lender near you.
Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae)
Fannie Mae’s Disaster Response Network™ offers free support for eligible homeowners from HUD-approved housing advisors, including:
• Personalized recovery assessment and action plan;
• Assistance filing claims (i.e. FEMA, insurance and SBA);
• Help working with mortgage provider on Payment relief options;
• Access to Clearpoint’s Project Porchlight disaster recovery tools and resources; and
• Ongoing check-ins to help ensure a successful recovery.
For more information and to arrange to connect with a Clearpoint Project Porchlight advisor, call 877-833-1746.
U.S. Department of the Treasury
Don’t let a disaster come between you and your money.
If you get federal benefit payments by paper check, you can switch to direct deposit. Your money is directly deposited into a checking or savings account on payment day each month. Direct deposit removes the risk of a delayed payment due to a disaster event. You may choose from two electronic payment options:
• Direct Deposit – Your payment is deposited into your checking or savings account. Learn more about direct deposit online at the website here.
• Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® – A prepaid debit card you can use to make retail purchases, pay bills, and get cash back. It’s a no- or low-cost alternative to paper checks. For more information on Direct Express, visit the website here.
Redeem savings bonds early – before the end of the usual minimum 12-month holding period – if you live in a presidentially declared disaster area. Butte, Los Angeles and Ventura counties are eligible for this under the major disaster declaration signed by President Trump last November.
If your Series EE, HH or I bonds were lost, damaged, destroyed or contaminated by the wildfires, you may be able to get faster replacement these paper bonds.
For more about these programs, visit the Treasury’s website.
Internal Revenue Service
Special tax law provisions may help individual taxpayers and businesses recover financially from the impact of the California wildfires, especially those located in the “federally-declared” counties of Butte, Los Angeles and Ventura. Depending on the circumstances, the IRS may grant additional time to file returns and pay taxes.
Both individuals and businesses in a federally declared disaster area can get a faster refund by claiming losses related to the disaster on the tax return for the previous year, usually by filing an amended return. You may deduct the loss or partial loss of your home, household goods, and motor vehicles from disaster damage on your individual federal income tax return.
For more information, click on IRS here.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA)
The SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline is a national hotline that offers year-round disaster crisis counseling. If you feel distressed because of the wildfires, you can use this free service. It’s toll-free, multilingual, crisis support, and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Helpline staff provides counseling and support and can help you learn how to cope with common stress reactions. They can also provide information and referrals to local resources for follow-up care.
If you or someone you know is struggling with the disaster, you are not alone, you can call the helpline at 800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746.
To learn more, visit the SAMHSA website.
Out of work? Looking for a job? Eligible for unemployment compensation? You may want to visit the State of California job website.
CalJOBS is a one-stop center for workforce resources and employment tools for job seekers in California, including a huge online database of job openings. CalJOBS is the place for jobseekers and employers to access jobs, resumes, education, training, labor market information, and access to unemployment applications and resources.
More resources available to Californians who need help:
If you can’t find what you need for anything “wildfire,” check-out the Wildfire Recovery website a service of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES).
To find your closest hospital, use CA Hospital Finder website.
You can get access to more disaster help and resources, as well as a personalized list of available assistance. (No login or personal information required.) Visit the Federal Disaster Assistance website for more information
Additional information on California’s disaster recovery can be found by calling the FEMA Helpline 800-621-3362 or visiting the FEMA website for this disaster; the FEMA Twitter page; or the FEMA Blog.