Flood-stricken Grays Harbor County residents waiting patiently for federal assistance might find it wanting.
As it stands, the state has not documented enough damage to qualify for federal assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Mark Stewart, a spokesman for state Emergency Management, a division of the Washington Military Department.
Stewart is encouraging residents to fill out damage assessment forms, keeping in tune with other officials who have encouraged the same since the Jan. 5 flood.
Two programs could be available: The Public Assistance Program would help fund repairs to public entities and infrastructure, such as city buildings and water lines; the Individual and Human Services Program would assist homeowners and residents.
To qualify for the Public Assistance Program through FEMA, two financial thresholds must be met. A county must incur damage amounting to at least $3.56 per person countywide. Additionally, the damage must total $1.41 per person statewide, or approximately $9.5 million, Stewart said.
“While it looks like Grays Harbor, Pacific and Wahkiakum counties can make their thresholds, it’ll still be short on the state part,” Stewart said last week.
The Individual and Human Services Program would help individuals who were uninsured or under-insured. That program has no specified threshold, but is selective, meaning some communities incurring more damage from disasters than Grays Harbor have applied but not received assistance.
“We’re not seeing the amount of damage that will allow us to seek Individual and Human Services Program assistance,” Stewart said. “We have fewer than 50 homes in that category right now. We’re hoping we can make the threshold, but we can’t guarantee anything.”
To put the situation into context, the Carlton Complex fire in Okanogan County last summer destroyed some 300 homes and did not meet the threshold, Stewart said.
Homes qualifying for that program will have claimed uninsured damages amounting to at least 40 percent of the home’s total value, Stewart said. If that program is put into motion, an inspection by FEMA representatives would take place, and checks would be issued to cover some expenses for building materials, appliances, furniture, clothing and other necessities lost to the flood.
But the maximum amount residents could receive from the Individual and Human Services Program is $32,900. The average amount received nationwide is between $2,000 and $5,000.
“Sometimes folks think, ‘I’ve got FEMA to cover me,’ but it’s not what they think it is,” Stewart said.
The state’s Emergency Management division has been offering technical assistance to local governments to ensure damage assessments are readily available and easily accessible. The number of people who fill out damage assessment forms directly correlates to any federal assistance eligibility.
“Homeowners — if they were impacted and have not reported yet — they need to do that,” Stewart said.
Damage assessment teams have visited and received reports from Grays Harbor, Lewis, Pacific, Skagit, Snohomish, Thurston and Wahkiakum counties, gathering information that will be sent to FEMA in applying for federal assistance. If all thresholds were met for FEMA assistance, the state would then need to make a formal request to President Barack Obama through FEMA.
Without FEMA, the federal Small Business Administration Disaster Loan Program could become available to residents — homeowners, business owners and renters alike — offering low-interest loans for repairs, rather than grants. Because that program offers loans, those who are approved will have to undergo a credit check.
The state must seek assistance through the program before individuals can apply.
Stewart reminds residents that any residual cleanup should be completed immediately. At this point, more than two weeks after the flood, the water will have encouraged mold growth, which can be detrimental to residents’ health and can cause further damage to property.
“If anyone’s been delaying cleanup, they need to do that,” Stewart said.
Various state agencies have stepped forward to help residents of Grays Harbor after the flooding.
For example, the state Department of Transportation has worked with Emergency Management on a request for deployment of signs to advertise recovery centers. The state Department of Ecology gave the county $30,000 to help create the flood debris removal voucher system for the LeMay Enterprises Transfer Station in Aberdeen.