A newly opened Disaster Recovery Center is helping people in Santa Barbara County navigate the process of applying for local, statewide and federal assistance.
Its opening comes just weeks after heavy winter storms swept across the Central Coast, leaving many people unsure of how to access help following damages due to their homes and businesses. Organizers of the new Disaster Recovery Center at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria say it is your "one-stop shop" for getting expert guidance on the resources available.
"The main portion of our district that was impacted was Guadalupe. We have been out there and talked to the community members out there and they certainly had questions like, 'How do I get assistance? Where do I go? Who do I call?' those sort of things, and that is really why this is here," said Cory Bantilan, Chief of Staff to Santa Barbara County's 5th District Supervisor.
Since opening this past weekend, organizers say more than 20 people have already shown up to get help.
"They are facilities that will have FEMA representatives, representatives from the Small Business Administration, the County will have businesses here, as well as the State," said Renee Bafalis, a media relations specialist with FEMA.
Bafalis says it can be a challenge for people in the community to know what types of assistance they may qualify for, adding that if for some reason you may not be eligible for benefits with FEMA, other help is out there.
"If indeed they say you are currently at this time not eligible, we want you to read as to why. If you have insurance, we can't duplicate what your insurance covers so we have to wait until your insurance lets you know what your insurance coverage is going to be. However, if you are uninsured or underinsured, we might be able to assist you," she explained.
Bafalis adds that those who come out to the recovery center should have their Social Security information at hand, along with the address of their damaged property, and a bank routing number for people seeking a direct deposit.
Representatives with the Small Business Administration say they can guide you through their loan application process as well.
"We have pamphlets in there, we have flyers in there. And after they are done working with the Small Business Administration, right behind us we have tables and other rooms here at Hancock. You just go around; we have all the other resources," said Zabrina Tipton, a public information officer for the Small Business Association.
"Everything from mental health services, we have health services available. For example, if someone lost their medication during a flood or their eyeglasses. Need financial help? Shelter support? We have access to all of those services," added Mary Bach, American Red Cross representative.
Bantilan meanwhile, emphasized the need for a collaborative effort in tackling the damages caused by the storms.
"That’s really the only way to get this done, right? Because there are so many different needs and we all need to come together and try to make it as easy as possible for the folks that were impacted. This isn’t an easy time in their lives so let’s make it as easy as possible for them to get the assistance that they need and deserve," he said.
Bafalis also adds that if you received word from FEMA saying you were ineligible for assistance, their representatives at Hancock College's recovery center can walk you through the qualifications and possibly help you draft an appeal letter. She adds that once an application is submitted, you should hear back from an inspector within seven to 10 days who will schedule a time to assess your property's damages.
The center is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Disaster recovery centers are also set up at Direct Relief in Santa Barbara and the Veterans Memorial Building in San Luis Obispo.