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Don Daniel, a FEMA public information officer, stands in front of FEMA's Mobile Disaster Recovery Center.

Paul Wellman

Don Daniel, a FEMA public information officer, stands in front of FEMA's Mobile Disaster Recovery Center.


Burned and Unsure

Insurance Options, Post-Tea Fire


It’s official. Santa Barbara is a disaster area, according to last week’s declaration by President George W. Bush. However, despite the negative ring that statement has, it brings many benefits to those who suffered the misfortune of losing their homes or sustaining significant fire damage. So many factors are at play in the rebuilding process-cleanup, insurance, building permits, construction, more insurance-but relief agencies have done their best to make information available in one spot. So far, all roads lead to the Federal Emergency Management Agency-commonly known as FEMA.

Because of the president’s declaration, Don Daniel, FEMA public information officer, said that everyone is eligible for some kind of assistance, and should register to see what they qualify for. “It’s different for each individual-you don’t know [what you qualify for]. That’s why you need to call,” he said, adding that FEMA applicants will get a response within 10 days and find out what they’re eligible for. Some will get full federal aid, and others will be referred to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Department of Disaster Assistance for loans (although buyer beware, if you are referred to SBA and don’t fill out the SBA application, no federal aid for you).

SBA offers low interest loans to renters, homeowners, and businesses-up to $40,000 for renters, and for homeowners, up to $200,000 for physical repairs to their homes, and up to $40,000 for home contents. Businesses can receive up to $2 million to cover physical recovery of damaged facilities and inventory, as well as economic injury. The deadline for physical damage loans is coming up soon, on January 21, 2009, but those needing loans for economic injury have until August 18, 2009. “There are many people who don’t want a loan, but it’s better to apply for a loan and not need it than to find out on January 22nd that you need all this work done and don’t have the funds,” said Cynthia Cowell, a communications specialist withSBA.

The American Red Cross offers myriad other support services in conjunction with partner agencies, such as food from the Salvation Army, clothing discounts from local vendors, and other services pertaining to transportation, cleanup, phone lines, and immediate monetary needs. Like FEMA, Red Cross officials encourage fire victims to contact them and sign up to find out what assistance they’re eligible for. “We’re just assessing people’s needs at this point,” said Marisa Laurel Smith, Red Cross public affairs officer. “We want people to know that the Red Cross is here to help.”

If you are a Tea Fire survivor, and haven’t yet had a chance to contact any of these agencies, the question you may be asking yourself now is, “What do I do?” Keep reading and find out.

I own a home and have homeowners insurance:

You most likely have some provisions for fire woven into your policy, and hopefully have a range of options, such as ALE-Additional Living Expenses incurred while houseless-to help you bridge the gap between having a destroyed house and moving into a rebuilt one. However, FEMA and the Red Cross say that you should register with them to see what kind of assistance you qualify for. You may have a good policy, but hopefully they can do something to make your hectic life easier. SBA offers loans of up to $200,000 for physical repairs to your property, and up to $40,000 for the contents of your home. FEMA registration can be done online or by calling its toll free number-(800) 621-FEMA (3362). According to FEMA, its registration process takes 20 to 30 minutes to complete. The Santa Barbara Chapter of the American Red Cross can be reached by calling (805) 687-1331, or by visiting its Web site.

Area insurance agents encourage all policyholders who were affected by the fire but have not yet contacted them to do so. Susan Rodriguez, the branch president of Brown & Brown, said that some of their clients lost phone service in the fire, making it important for those people to call and check in. Also, insurance agents and fire victim advocates polled said that homeowners should make an inventory of what they had in the house before they file a claim.

I own a home and don’t have insurance:

Begin by registering with FEMA to see what aid you qualify for. Register online or call (800) 621-FEMA (3362) to register by phone. SBA loans are available for those meeting minimum income requirements, with up to $200,000 for physical damages to your home, and up to $40,000 for damaged or destroyed household contents. Applicants who qualify for an SBA loan may also be eligible to refinance their mortgage at a rate as low as 2.687 percent. You should also register with the Red Cross-by calling (805) 687-1331, or by visiting its Web site-to see if you qualify for any of its assistance programs.

I rent and have insurance:

Most renters’ insurance policies cover the contents of the renter’s home, but won’t necessarily pay for your living expenses while you’re looking for a suitable place to rent. If you haven’t already done so, insurance agents and fire victim advocates suggest making an inventory of what you had in your house while it is still fresh in your mind. Your best bet is to register with FEMA online or by calling its toll free number-(800) 621-FEMA (3362). SBA gives loans of up to $40,000 to replace the contents of a renter’s home. You should also register with the Red Cross-by calling (805) 687-1331, or by visiting its Web site-to see if you qualify for any assistance programs. It has a number of partner agencies offering food, shelter, and immediate cash needs assistance.

I rent and don’t have insurance:

Fear not. There is a good chance that you qualify for a lot of aid from FEMA, including a range of services such as assistance with temporary housing. You can register online or by calling FEMA’s toll free number-(800) 621-FEMA (3362). FEMA says that the registration takes 20 to 30 minutes to complete. SBA offers loans to qualified applicants of up to $40,000 to replace the contents of a renter’s home. You should also register with the Red Cross-by calling (805) 687-1331, or by visiting its Web site-to see if you qualify for any assistance programs. The Red Cross has a number of partner agencies offering food, shelter, and immediate cash needs assistance.

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