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$66 million doled out in wildfire aid

Almost 19,000 who suffered losses this fall have been helped. Time is running out for Californians to apply.

December 18, 2007|Francisco Vara-Orta | Times Staff Writer

About 19,000 residents affected by Southern California's wildfires in October and November have applied for federal grants and loans, government officials said Monday.

As of Saturday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Small Business Administration had disbursed $66.1 million to 18,550 qualified applicants, said FEMA spokesman Ken Higginbotham.

Of that amount, about 82%, or $54.5 million, came from low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration that homeowners, renters and small businesses must repay.

The other 18% that FEMA has approved, about $11.6 million, came from housing assistance grants, vehicle repair or replacement grants, or state grants that supplement federal aid for large losses, Higginbotham said.

As a result of President Bush's disaster declaration Oct. 24 at the request of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, residents and business owners affected by the wildfires in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties are eligible to apply for federal and state individual assistance.

The funds can be used to pay for temporary housing if homes were destroyed or made unlivable by the fires; to pay for home rebuilding or repairs; to replace personal property not covered by insurance; and to assist with necessary disaster-related expenses, Higginbotham said.

The final deadline to apply for low-interest loans or cash grants is Jan. 9; people with losses can call FEMA at (800) 621-3362 to file a claim.

Callers will have to provide their Social Security number, insurance information and phone numbers.

For fire victims distressed by their losses, free crisis counseling can be arranged by calling the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at (800) 854-7771.

francisco.varaorta@latimes.com

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