FEMA Assistance and the Valley Fire – Many who lost homes in the Valley Fire need assistance to replace lost income, to make repairs, and to cover other expenses incurred due to the fire. On September 23, 2015, the President declared Lake County to be a federal disaster area. Now Valley Fire victims can apply for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (“FEMA”). Let us discuss FEMA assistance.

People whose homes were destroyed or made uninhabitable can request temporary housing assistance (not to exceed a total of $31,900).   As long as one person in the household is a US Citizen or Qualified Alien the entire household may qualify, even though other persons do not qualify. Household income and location are factors in determining the amount of financial assistance.

Furthermore, anyone receiving needs based government benefits (e.g., SSI, Medi-Cal and Food Stamps) should not fear losing these benefits due to FEMA assistance. FEMA assistance does not count as a resource or income and so does not impact eligibility.

To apply, one person in the affected household must register with FEMA — in person with FEMA or by phone (800-621-3362) or on line (www.fema.gov/webform/disaster-assistance) — within sixty (60) days of September 23, 2015. Once registered with FEMA it is important to stay in contact with them and to keep records of your expenses. Keep a copy of the FEMA application and number. FEMA will then inspect your residence, issue a notice of eligibility, and provide two months of rental assistance at a time (with renewal applications).

Besides rental assistance, FEMA, through the “Small Business Administration” (“SBA”), lends up to $200,000 for “other than housing” needs to repair or replace one’s primary residence (only) for the following purposes: (1) habitable repairs only; (2) medical and dental expenses; (3) funeral and burial expenses; (4) replacing destroyed household items; (5) replacing destroyed cars; and (6) moving expenses. The money is a loan that must be repaid. The foregoing requires keeping good records of these paid expenses.

FEMA is a last resort and not a primary source of funds to repair or replace residences. Victims should make private insurance claims against any insurance policy they have that covers the damages incurred. If FEMA advances money for repairs it does so in expectation of being repaid once insurance monies are received by the victim for such repairs. That said, in some cases, FEMA provides additional direct assistance for repair expenses not covered by insurance.

Also, if a fire victim loses his or her income as a result of the fire – such as their place of business being destroyed or it becomes inaccessible due to road closures — then he or she should apply for state unemployment assistance first, and then also apply with FEMA for unemployment income.

It is good that during these difficult times that FEMA is another possible source of assistance, in addition to private insurance, state assistance, and charitable organizations, which is now available to Valley Fire victims.