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FEMA Approves Individual Assistance for Thomas Fire, Montecito Mudslide Victims

Carbajal Successfully Appeals a Previous Decision to Deny It

A home on East Valley Lane — in the voluntary evacuation zone — was partially destroyed when San Ysidro Creek swelled to 400 feet in width, shearing off a side of the home but leaving a bookshelf on the second floor intact.
Brandon Yadegari

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved emergency assistance to compensate individuals and businesses for losses suffered by the Thomas Fire and last week’s flood and mud avalanche. Congressmember Salud Carbajal had lobbied FEMA administrators to approve the assistance, appealing a previous decision by the federal agency to deny it. At that time, FEMA and the Trump administration had only approved compensation for damages sustained by state and local governments.

Individual assistance ​— ​or IA, as it’s known ​— ​typically is harder to sell. There are six thresholds that need to be met, the first being the number of homes destroyed. Typically, that number is 200. To date, the Thomas Fire destroyed 27 homes and the mudslide 127 in Santa Barbara County. Carbajal explained that by combining the damages inflicted by the Thomas Fire with the mudslide event ​— ​in both Santa Barbara and Ventura counties ​— ​FEMA administrators could grant the highly coveted IA request.

This enables private individuals and small businesses to seek federal compensation for money spent on hotels, motels, and evacuations, if not otherwise covered by private insurance policies. Likewise, IA can cover other expenses or losses that would not have been incurred but for the natural disaster, such as lost wages. The maximum amount that can be paid is about $35,000.

In order to apply for such assistance, individuals must register with FEMA. Those encountering difficulties navigating FEMA’s website should call Carbajal’s office for assistance. The issue of private insurance, Carbajal predicted, could prove problematic. Some homeowner insurance policies, he cautioned, might not cover damages caused by a flood. If insurance companies determine that the flood damage was sustained as a result of the Thomas Fire, however, they may cover it. “Some companies will; some won’t,” Carbajal said. “We’re going to have to see how that shakes out.”

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