Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved nearly $10 million in relief for Santa Cruz County families affected by two natural disasters this year, as their Silicon Valley neighbors are just now being told they can apply too.

FEMA has processed $3,539,828 worth of applications for 1,627 Santa Cruz County households just for the more recent set of severe weather systems, which began Feb. 21, a spokesperson said Wednesday.

“The storms were like back to back,” said Tiana Suber, reflecting on the onslaught faced by North Santa Cruz County residents over recent months. “I feel like when the second one came on, they were still trying to put their life back together from the first one.”

The initial so-called atmospheric rivers pummeled the Greater Bay Area starting in December, and the battering continued on-and-off for weeks—and then months.

As of March 10, FEMA had registered 2,718 households in Santa Cruz County and approved $5,975,242 for people who found themselves in the tempests’ paths, which were officially declared a natural disaster Jan. 14.

FEMA ultimately approved a total of $9,515,070 in aid to individual households in the months to come. Many who didn’t necessarily qualify for a grant were referred to the Small Business Administration, to see if they might qualify for a low-interest loan.

During the second disaster, FEMA helped 622 households at its Felton Disaster Recovery Center before it closed May 5. North County residents came for information about the SBA process, to request initial inspections, and to seek home repair and rental assistance.

In total, 566 of those who visited the Felton Branch Library, where the aid center was located, were referred to the SBA.

“Every case is different,” Suber said, which asked why many San Lorenzo Valley residents were referred to SBA. “Some people could be eligible for SBA and some people are not.”

On June 5, the day the application period for the second disaster was set to close, FEMA extended the deadline to file to July 20 for eligible counties.

By then, $33.5 million in federal assistance had been approved across California for survivors, including $14.9 million in FEMA grants for individuals, $13.1 million for housing assistance, $1.8 million for other sorts of needs and $18.7 million in SBA loans to homeowners, renters and businesses.

“FEMA disaster assistance cannot return you to your pre-disaster situation. It is meant to help you into a safe, secure and sanitary situation,” a spokesperson said at the time. “If your home is damaged, you may either receive funds to aid with repair or if it’s unlivable, you may receive rental assistance for temporary housing. FEMA’s Individuals and Households Assistance Program may also provide funds to replace damaged clothing, furniture, or other contents of your home, not covered by insurance.”

Under FEMA’s system, the first two months of rental assistance are offered without people having to submit rental receipts.

Then, if an inspector determines a home to be unlivable, two additional months of rental assistance can be provided separate from a home repair grant. Getting further help from the feds covering rent requires the completion of an additional form.

Extensions on rental assistance are granted for three-month periods, and grant awardees must contact FEMA’s Helpline (at 800-621-3362) to recertify.

Rental assistance, which isn’t taxable, is available up to a maximum of 18 months from the date of the FEMA disaster declaration.

Suber’s own time in California is coming to an end. She’s headed back to the East Coast, now that the disaster here is winding down. That doesn’t mean FEMA is pulling out completely.

After all, its recovery centers on Ocean Street in Santa Cruz and in Pajaro are still open.

Ironically, Santa Clara County’s Disaster Recovery Center has just opened up shop in Los Gatos, as it hadn’t collected enough information about damages to win the Presidential nod for disaster recovery, earlier.

“They had to file an appeal to be added back to that old one,” she said, noting this can happen when a county hasn’t gathered the relevant information to prove they meet the threshold for federal support. “I’ve never had that happen before. Of course, we’re always ready to serve.”

On May 25, FEMA amended its Major Disaster Declaration to include Santa Clara County for the Individual Assistance Program.

That includes temporary emergency housing or money for home repairs of primary residences and help with medical, dental, personal property, transportation and moving-and-storage expenses that are related to the disaster.

“Since the storms began, the County and our partners have been working to get as much assistance as possible to help community members who were impacted,” said Darrell Ray, Santa Clara County’s deputy director of the Office of Emergency Management, in a June 12 release. “If you were affected by this disaster, be sure to apply now.”

The site, located at The Pavilion at Redwood Estates at 21450 Madrone Drive in Los Gatos, is open June 14-27 from 9am-6pm and June 28 from 9am-noon.

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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