Hundreds of Californians Wait to Get Word on FEMA Fire Aid

November 9, 2007

More than a week after the worst of California’s wildfires subsided, more than 700 households are waiting to learn if they will qualify for federal aid to begin restoring their homes and lives, according to figures released Wednesday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has received 15,694 requests for emergency assistance since wildfires burned across Southern California last month, and hundreds continue to come in each day.

The government will consider requests to pay for temporary housing, repairs or costs tied to replacing a home not covered by insurance. The maximum is $28,800 for lost homes and property.

About 70 percent of the claims — roughly 11,000 — involve households covered by insurance. They are set aside temporarily by FEMA until it’s determined what losses were covered under their policies. Then, those households can seek payments for losses that weren’t covered.

That leaves almost 5,000 claims. So far, FEMA had paid out more than $5 million in housing assistance to 1,300 of those households.

About 2,300 claims were deemed ineligible, others were withdrawn voluntarily and 734 remain under review, FEMA spokeswoman Kelly Hudson said.

“We feel like … we are keeping up a good pace,” Hudson said.

Meanwhile, the state is monitoring federal assistance.

“If victims are not getting the assistance they need in a timely manner, we will do all that we can to ensure they get what they need,” said Aaron McLear, a spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Applicants who qualify can also receive money from FEMA for a wide range of emergency expenses, including heating oil, dental or medical costs, tools, moving expenses, funerals, computers — even a vacuum.

Thus far, the agency has written about 350 checks for about $1.2 million to cover those costs. Hudson said the agency could not immediately say how many claims had been submitted to cover those expenses.

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