Mountain Fire prompts outreach meeting

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On Aug. 7, officials from the USDA Rural Development Offices in El Centro and Indio met at the Idyllwild Library with Riverside County Fire Department representatives Gina McGough and Peter Lent, and Pine Cove Water District General Manager Jerry Holldber and President Mike Esnard, as well as concerned local organizations, to discuss their programs that offer financial assistance (fire and non-fire related) to local businesses, community facilities and water districts.

“Why are we here?” posed Daniel Cardona, area specialist of the USDA. “To meet you all, learn about what happened during the fire and basically to make some connections and find out if there is any way any of our programs might be able to assist you. It could be fire related or not fire related.

“We serve the rural areas of California and this area is eligible for many of our programs. Our programs serve communities with populations of 10,000 or less, 20,000 or less or even 50,000 or less and our primary goal is to serve those areas.”

Holldber organized the meeting. “I received a call from Daniel Cardona of the USDA wanting to help the community of Idyllwild,” said Holldber. “Daniel asked me to contact members of the community and organize the meeting. We wanted to see if there were any programs that could benefit the people and community of Idyllwild and surrounding areas affected by the fire.”

The benefits include Single Family Housing programs, Multi-Family Housing programs, Business and Cooperative Services programs, Community Facility programs and Water and Waste Water programs. Unfortunately, no funds are available at the state level to assist individuals.

Lent explained, “Without a federal declaration, there is no individual help. The only thing that will help individuals is the [Small Business Administration].

“We are also attempting to get state assistance under the California Disaster Assistance Act. We are still compiling those numbers and as it stands right now, the state has not approved them. The state did approve a Declaration of Emergency which is great but no funding came with that declaration.”

The USDA organization has no assistance for businesses with economic loss. USDA Business and Cooperative Specialist Sonny Hogue said, “Generally we would have a disaster assistance program but because we don’t have any disaster assistance money, there is really nothing that we can do. The only thing we can offer is some type of grant or business loan.”

Holldber said, “I will make some contacts with you and see if there is any interest. We can get a group of business people together and you can come back to town and say ‘this is how we can help you.’ This is one option.”

For residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the Mountain Fire and not covered by insurance, there may be some housing assistance available in the form of loans. “These residents can apply and must go through the qualification process including income eligibility and acceptable credit,” said Carrie McLeod, another USDA area specialist. “If housing is of immediate concern, individuals may apply for a LOPE Letter [Letter of Priority and Entitlement] which gives them priority in housing where there is a wait list. However, these individuals may not exceed a moderate income level and the availability of this type of housing is only found in more populated areas like Hemet, Riverside, San Bernardino and the like.”

Businesses interested in obtaining a loan for improvements or working capital, fire or non-fire related, are encouraged to apply. Some grants are available, as are a variety of business loans.

Cardona suggests contacting his office before going to the expense of hiring an engineer. “We can generally tell folks if they qualify before they go to the additional expense of hiring professionals.”

Cardona can be reached at 760-352-4418, ext. 107. Also, visit the USDA Rural Development website at for more information.

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