Storm disaster assistance centers open in Santa Barbara County

Santa Barbara County residents can visit a Disaster Assistance Center as a one-stop shop to get all of the resources they need while recovering from the storms that drenched the Central Coast in January, damaging hundreds of homes and businesses.

click to enlarge Storm disaster assistance centers open in Santa Barbara County
PHOTO COURTESY OF ALLAN HANCOCK COLLEGE
HELP WITH RECOVERY : At the Santa Maria Disaster Assistance Center, residents can receive help with federal relief applications, registering with FEMA, and find a variety of local resources.

These centers are a partnership between the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, Santa Barbara County, and local cities. During their visit, residents can get help applying for federal assistance, disaster loans, and learn about other resources available, said Kelsey Buttitta, the county public information officer.    

“Really this is the place for people to get all of [their] questions answered. I was there this weekend and there was one station for the DMV where you can get temporary driver’s licenses,” Buttitta said. “If you are a member that doesn’t automatically qualify for FEMA grants or loans, there are nonprofits that are there to help community members who may be falling through the cracks.” 

The partnership came after President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, allowing federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts to the storms. Centers are now open at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, Direct Relief in Santa Barbara, and the Veterans Hall in San Luis Obispo, Buttitta said.  

“I just really want anybody that was impacted by the January 2023 storms to take the time to go to these centers, they are open for seven days a week and open for a minimum of two weeks,” she said. “It’s accessible, too. We do have translators for Spanish, Mixteco, and ASL [American Sign Language]; we just want anyone to go and feel welcome. This is a whole community event for people.” 

Residents first need to reach out to their insurance if they have a provider and register with FEMA—even if they are questioning whether there was any damage to their property, FEMA media relations specialist Renee Bafalis told the Sun. It’s better to apply and let the agencies determine if you qualify, rather than lose out on this opportunity. 

“These are your tax dollars at work, and [they] will come back and assist you,” Bafalis said. “There’s no application fee, you don’t have to make a commitment on these loans, you can take whatever you are approved for and think about it. You can wait and look at what the other resources are. It’s something that’s steadfast and there’s no fee. Just come on in and see how we can help you, please.”  

As of Jan. 29, FEMA had received 719 FEMA registrations and provided close to $875,000 in individual and household programs assistance in Santa Barbara County. FEMA received more than 1,100 registrations and provided about $1.5 million in SLO County, she said. The state overall has 9,926 people registered, and FEMA’s provided about $9.5 million in its individual and household assistance programs. 

“We just opened the recovery centers over the weekend [Jan. 28] in Santa Barbara County. Now that they’re open and getting coverage, hopefully we’ll see those numbers change,” Bafalis said.

FEMA can provide rental assistance for those who had to move out of their home, and cover initial repair costs, personal property and vehicle losses, as well as child care, medical and dental care, and funeral expenses in the form of grants, she said. Residents who are undocumented can also apply for assistance as long as there is one person in the household with a Social Security number. 

“When you come into the centers, if you’ve already registered, you can find the status of your claim and find exactly what that correspondence may need,” Bafalis said. “If you have insurance, you have to wait and see what your insurance will cover. We might be able to assist you if you are underinsured or uninsured.”

People should hang on to any documentation they have if they’ve already started repairs and take photos of property damage, she said. FEMA disaster survivor assistance teams are also going door to door throughout the Central Coast and registering people on-site.

Residents have until March 16 to register for assistance, which can be done at disasterassistance.gov or by calling (800) 621-3362. The Allan Hancock resilience center is located at 800 S. College Drive, Building O-300, Parking Lot 7, and is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day of the week.

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