Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Disaster Resource Centers open in Elk, Medical Lake to help residents access federal aid

Braulio Sime hangs a sign in the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center in Medical Lake City Hall on Thursday as applicant service specialists, at right, help survivors of the Gray wildfire navigate through various local, state and federal assistance programs that may be available to them.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Disaster Recovery Centers opened in Elk and Medical Lake Thursday to help residents impacted by last summer’s wildfires access federal aid, recently made available by President Joe Biden.

The Aug. 18 fires were among the worst in Washington state history, burning more than 21,000 acres and destroying over 300 homes. While local leaders have set up the Spokane Region Long Term Recovery Group, progress had been slow without an answer on the disaster designation, said Terri Cooper, Medical Lake mayor and board chair.

Last week, Biden signed a major disaster declaration making likely millions in federal funds available to residents affected and to repair public infrastructure. Those funds will be administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Low-interest loans are also available through the Small Business Administration.

Individuals can get up to $42,500 in housing assistance, along with an additional $42,500 for other needs assistance for things such as furniture, shops or other property damage.

Most people’s payments are far lower, said Lance “Duke” Davis, FEMA coordinating officer.

The intent of the program is not to make people whole, but instead to cover costs that were unforeseen or underinsured.

“It’s an opportunity to jump-start their recovery and get back on their feet,” Davis said.

Stacey McClain, state coordinating officer, said at the last disaster he worked in Whatcom County, they were seeing payouts of about $4,000 to $5,000.

The average individual payout from FEMA is $8,000, Cooper said she was told by officials.

To get started with individual assistance, residents impacted by the fires need to apply online at FEMA, in person, or with the help of their existing Salvation Army case worker.

Then, a team will come out to their property and evaluate the damage, along with looking at their insurance information and previous aid.

“Everyone is evaluated based on their case,” Davis said. “Everybody gets the same look.”

Residents must register by April 20 to get assistance.

The process moves quickly after the evaluation, with payouts in some cases arriving in less than a week, Davis said. There may be delays in Spokane County, however, to check people aren’t getting payments duplicated, due to the six-month delay in getting a disaster declaration, Davis said.

Housing inspectors are already working in the Spokane area.

For those who still have a gap in getting back to where they were before the fire, Small Business Administration loans are also available.

These are low-interest loans, with rates as low as 2.5% for homeowners, 4% for businesses and 2.375% for nonprofits.

Homeowners are eligible for up to $500,000 to repair or replace their primary residence.

Renters and homeowners can also get up to $100,000 to replace or repair personal property.

Those loans provide funds immediately to help people start rebuilding and can then be repaid by insurance funds when they come through, said George Kostyrko, public information officer with SBA.

“We’re trying to get money into people’s hands,” he said.

Businesses and nonprofits can get up to $2 million to cover disaster-related losses not fully covered by insurance.

There is no interest or payments for the first year, Kostyrko said.

It’s free to apply, and there’s no obligation to accept the loan upon approval. Applications are also due for physical damage loans by April 20.

If denied a loan by the business administration, additional FEMA resources may be available, Kostyrko noted.

In addition to the disaster recovery centers, there’s a business recovery center at the Washington Small Business Development Center, 4420 E. Eighth Ave., that is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

People are encouraged to come to one of the centers and apply in person, where customer service representatives from FEMA and the Small Business Administration can answer questions.

“It’s a way better experience,” Kostyrko said.