After FEMA Denial, Small Business Administration Loans Offer New Path for Fire Recovery in Whitman County
The Small Business Administration will offer low-interest federal disaster loans to individuals and businesses affected by the devastating Washington wildfires last summer.
Tuesday’s announcement comes just a day after residents of Whitman County were individual assistance refused by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Individual assistance would have provided grants, among other possibilities, to residents. FEMA Public Assistance, to help repair damage to public infrastructure, was approved by President Joe Biden last week.
“We went from extremely ecstatic to extremely discouraged, and then from extremely ecstatic again,” Malden Mayor Dan Harwood said.
The denial of individual aid funds and the swift response from the Small Business Administration came as no surprise to leaders of recovery efforts in Malden and Pine City, where 80 percent of residents have lost their homes.
Hank Cramer, of Washington State Emergency Management, warned residents that FEMA was unlikely to offer individual assistance.
“In every conversation I have had with a local official or citizen or with a local charity group, I have said that I would be very surprised if there was an AI statement,” Cramer said. “I hope, ask for it, but plan what you’re going to do in the likely scenario where you don’t get it.”
In the decade Cramer worked for the state on disasters, there was only one case where individual aid was approved, the Oso landslide in 2014 that killed 43 people.
“A statement of individual assistance is very difficult to obtain,” Cramer said. “The criteria are not objective and the threshold is very high.”
To appeal FEMA’s decision, the state would have to submit new information about the damage caused by the fire, Cramer said.
“I don’t believe there are any new facts,” Cramer said.
An appeal would also force the SBA to take a step back, he said. Gov. Jay Inslee’s office said it has no plans to appeal the FEMA decision.
While Cramer and many residents of Whitman County are disappointed, the denial opens up options with loans from the Small Business Administration.
“Anyone who has lost a home that was uninsured or underinsured should contact the Small Business Administration immediately,” Cramer said. “They will give loans to people whose credit is far from perfect. They provide loans to people who cannot get a loan from a conventional bank. “
The SBA has support available in Adams, Asotin, Columbia, Franklin, Garfield, Lincoln, Spokane and Whitman counties, as well as Benewah, Latah and counties of Nez Perce in Idaho.
“SBA is firmly committed to providing Washington with the most effective, customer-focused response possible, and we will be there to provide access to federal disaster loans to help fund the recovery of businesses and communities.” residents affected by the disaster, ”wrote Tami Perriello, acting Administrator of the SBA, in a statement Tuesday.
Loans are offered in three categories: commercial physical disaster, economic disaster and domestic disaster.
Home disaster loans cover uninsured or otherwise unmatched losses and are available up to $ 200,000 for repair or replacement of real estate, and up to $ 40,000 for personal property. Renters can also ask for help replacing their personal belongings.
Applicants must have a credit history, be able to demonstrate that they can repay loans and collateral. Loans are not refused for lack of collateral, but applicants are required to pledge what they have available.
The interest rates for real estate loans are 1.188% if the individual does not have credit available elsewhere and 2.375% with other available credits.
The average mortgage interest rate on a 30-year fixed-rate loan in the United States is currently 2.98%, which is close to the Washington average of 2.96%, according to Business Insider.
“We encourage everyone affected by the fire at whatever level, whether they have insurance, whether they have no insurance, whatever their situation, to seek help,” said Gerry Bozarth, Spokane County emergency management specialist. loan to Whitman County to work in Malden disaster relief.
About 40-50% of residents in Malden were uninsured at the time of the fire, with many of these residents unable to purchase insurance due to the condition of their homes or unable to afford insurance. insurance due to high premiums or prohibitive repairs to qualify, Bozarth says. Residents who are rebuilding will likely be required to purchase insurance from their bank, the SBA, or the non-profit organization that is building their home.
Even people who were insured, like Scott Hokonson, executive director of the Pine Creek Community Long Term Recovery Group, may be eligible for loans to help cover costs beyond what their insurance will cover.
“I don’t want anyone to self-eliminate themselves,” Hokonson said. “Even if you don’t think you qualify, it can help everyone.”
For those with an insurance deficit, the SBA could offer a loan for the difference and help with refinancing, Bozarth said. There are provisions if a person wishes to move outside the area, Bozarth added.
The loan application will likely be used to help screen people to see who is going to have a gap after receiving a loan or being turned down, Hokonson said.
Many charities, including the Long Term Recovery group, will use denial as an indicator an individual has exhausted thEir other options, Hokonson said.
“Being turned down for an SBA loan is actually okay because… being turned down for an SBA loan is something they use as a filter,” Cramer said. “The first question these charities will ask themselves is, ‘Have they applied for an SBA loan? and “What’s the status?” “
A group of Mennonites from Montana have already offered to come and build at least two houses in Malden with volunteer labor, Bozarth said. More organizations are aligned to work with the long-term recovery group to help meet any need, Hokonson said.
Stakeholders in the long-term recovery group are already in contact with residents and are working on their recovery plans. Social workers can help you with everything from working with insurance to finding temporary stable accommodation to finding part-time employment, Hokonson said. They will help get residents information on how to apply for SBA loans, Hokonson said.
However, it’s ultimately up to the individual to lead their own recovery, Cramer said.
“This is a very important part of the long term recovery,” he said. “We teach case managers that the client should be in charge of their own recovery.”
Cramer said his mentor told him years ago that he could give his clients the help phone number and give them the phone, but they have to dial the number.
Still, the Long-Term Recovery Group and the City of Malden plan to set up large signs outside of town with the phone number and website to apply for the loan program, as well as send the information to all residents.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the SBA plans to set up a virtual loan awareness center to help applicants by phone at 800-659-2955 or online at catastropheloanassistance.sba.gov 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST. The deadline to file a property damage claim is April 12, 2021.
Applying for the loans is just the next step in the Pine Creek community’s long recovery process, Harwood said. Ultimately, Harwood said he remains confident that everyone will get their needs met.
“If a person doesn’t have the capacity to be approved by the SBA, that’s when our church groups and others will come in and make sure these people have a home,” Harwood said. “No one will be left without a home that wants to be here.”