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Inslee seeks federal disaster help for wildfires

— A major disaster declaration is being sought from President Barack Obama to free up federal assistance to help families, business owners and local governments recover from fires in Central and Eastern Washington.

Late yesterday, Gov. Jay Inslee asked Obama to approve the declaration.

In the letter sent to a top official with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the governor asked for individual assistance, public assistance and hazard mitigation grant programs for Chelan and Okanogan counties and the Colville Indian Reservation.

The aid would cover the areas hardest hit by wildfires so far this summer, including the Carlton Complex.

“The people of Chelan and Okanogan counties and the Colville reservation are resilient, but at the same time, their governments’ resources can only go so far,” Inslee said. “Federal assistance is needed to get our friends and neighbors on the road to recovery.”

If approved by the president, the declaration would bring with it:

-Individual assistance. A preliminary state and federal damage assessment identified an estimated 323 homes in Okanogan County that have been destroyed by wildfire. Individual assistance offers a number of programs to aid individuals, households and businesses impacted by wildfire.

It would provide disaster housing, which provides funds for up to 18 months to displaced individuals and families whose homes were heavily damaged or destroyed to find temporary housing in the local area. Funding also can be provided for housing repairs and replacement of damaged items to make homes habitable.

Disaster grants, which help individuals address other disaster-related needs and necessary expenses not covered by insurance and other aid programs, would be available. These may include replacement of personal property, transportation, medical, dental and funeral expenses.

Disaster-related unemployment insurance would provide unemployment insurance benefit payments to individuals who became unemployed as a result of the disaster.

Crisis counseling program, which provides grants to provide services to disaster survivors, responders and others impacted by the disaster, would be available.

The U.S. Small Business Administration would make its disaster loan program available. The program makes low-interest loans available after a disaster for homeowners and renters to cover uninsured property losses.

Loans may be available for repair or replacement of homes, automobiles, clothing or other damaged personal property Loans also are available to businesses for property loss and economic injury.

-Public assistance - Public assistance is being requested for Chelan and Okanogan counties and the Colville reservation to repair roads, bridges, public utilities and other public infrastructure, and would come in the form of Federal Emergency Management Agency grants to defray 75 percent of the eligible damage and costs. Preliminary assessments show the fires caused approximately $35 million in damage.

-Hazard mitigation grant program - The program would provide post-disaster planning and funding for projects to reduce the risks to homeowners and government agencies of future disasters.

Obama made an emergency declaration for Washington state July 23 that provided only direct federal expertise to assist with the wildfire response and beginning of recovery.

A state of emergency was proclaimed on July 15, allowing state agencies and departments to use state resources and to assist the affected jurisdictions in their response and recovery.

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