As California lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown debate who should pay for the billions of dollars in wildfire damages, residents might wonder how much government help is available to rebuild their homes.
The answer? Not much.
When the president approves a Major Disaster Declaration for a California wildfire — and federal funding starts flowing into the state — there are two kinds of help.
There is public assistance, to fight the fire and rebuild public roads and buildings. And sometimes there is also individual assistance.
“That money that’s available to individuals is limited, because it’s a federal grant program and we definitely cannot make people whole,” says Brandi Richard with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The maximum available assistance for an individual from a FEMA grant? Approximately $32,000. And there are no state grants, according to the California Office of Emergency Services.
You can spend the federal individual assistance money to repair or replace a damaged or destroyed home, vehicle or other property, or it can go toward short-term living expenses until you can return home, such as a hotel room or apartment rental.
But even that has a catch: FEMA individual grants can only be used for a purpose not already covered by another government agency or your insurance.
“Let’s say your home was damaged and you’re receiving assistance to repair your home for the same damages that we’ve given you money for, we can’t do that,” Richard says. “That’s not a good use of taxpayer dollars.”
On Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown requested a Presidential Emergency Declaration for Direct Federal Assistance to help the state battle the deadly Carr Fire near Redding. President Trump and FEMA granted that request on Saturday.
“This federal assistance includes air assets to mitigate the impacts of this fire, shelter supplies and water for evacuated residents, and support with mass care, ambulatory transport and the evacuation of individuals with access and functional needs as well as large animals,” Brown’s office said in a press release.
A request for individual assistance from the federal government was not included but could come later.
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