From Napa Valley Register: Local quake fund is filling federal aid holes

January 15  •  Barry Eberling

A $10.9 million disaster fund launched by the wine industry has spent $2.5 million doing such things as repairing Herb Caraway’s mobile home and restocking Joseph Sciambra’s store – and it’s just getting started.

Napa Valley Vintners donated $10 million to the fund in the wake of the South Napa Earthquake and other donors provided the remainder. The deadline for people to apply for aid has been extended until March 31.

As South Napa Earthquake federal relief efforts wind down, the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund’s visibility will ramp up even further. The fund overseen by the Napa Valley Community Foundation is waiting as a safety net for those who fall through the federal aid cracks. That’s why so much money remains, officials said.

“The pacing reflects the reality of the feds stepping up, coming to town and putting about $40 million on the streets,” said Terence Mulligan, president of the foundation.

But that $40 million in grants and loans handed out so far by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Small Business Administration to 4,300 applicants hasn’t reached all earthquake victims. The deadline to register for federal property damage aid passed on Dec. 29.

Caraway was in his mobile home at Salvador Mobile Estates when the quake struck at 3:20 a.m. on Aug. 24. Within a matter of seconds, the shaking turned the 60 or so cinder blocks that the home rested on into rubble.

“It was just like a big roaring, rumble and crash-bang thing,” Caraway said.

The home ended up on the ground. Caraway was able to temporarily reconnect water and sewage services to the home, and the state allowed him to keep living there. But he needed money to make permanent repairs and the federal government had yet to offer financial aid to homeowners.

The Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund gave him a $7,400 grant.

“I couldn’t have done it without them,” Caraway said. “I’m retired, I’m 75 years old. It’s a big expense.”

Sciambra needed financial help for his St. Joseph religious store after the shaking stopped and he took stock of damages.

He found the store full of broken statues, pictures, figurines and other merchandise. He tried and failed to obtain a business loan from the SBA. The profit margin for the small store on Old California Way in north Napa proved too small.

The relief fund gave him a $10,000 grant to pay for new merchandise. Sciambra has been able to keep his doors open, serving both the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking communities.

“It’s nice, they saw worth in my business,” Sciambra said. “The government, they look more at dollars and cents.”

Had he closed, he doesn’t know where people who need something for a first communion or quinceanera would go, Sciambra said.

“I know my store has never been a big money-maker. Financially I just get by, but I love serving the community that I have also come to love,” the Napa native wrote in a thank-you letter to the relief fund.

Once again, the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund had plugged a federal aid hole. That’s the way the Napa Valley Community Foundation wants to see things work.

“We decided the best thing we could do when the feds came to town was for everyone to get what they could,” Mulligan said. “We thought, ‘What we’ll do is reserve the disaster relief fund for the thousands of people who don’t qualify.’ ”

Mulligan had expected more applicants for relief fund grants. But, he said, the SBA loan approval rate for Napa County earthquake victims has been 70 percent, compared to 50 percent nationwide.

“My gut is the federal government stepped up and did its thing,” Mulligan said. “That’s a good thing.”

Initial disaster relief fund grants were capped at $10,000 for residents and $15,000 for businesses. The foundation has raised these amounts to $20,000 for residents and $25,000 for small businesses. People who have received grants based on the previous caps can apply for more money.

Applicants for disaster relief fund grants must show that the SBA turned them down for a loan or that they have damages exceeding their SBA loan. Small businesses owners turned down for disaster loans by private lenders or unable to borrow enough money may also apply.

To date, 208 residents and small business owners have applied for grants, 77 have received grants totaling about $500,000 and 128 applications are pending, officials said. Another $2 million in fund money went to nonprofits that reached about 11,000 earthquake victims with such services as mental health counseling and food.

In addition, the foundation has spent $253,635 on administrative and consultant costs, or 2.3 percent of the $10.9 million total fund. Usual foundation fees to administer a project this size would be 10 percent to 15 percent, Mulligan said. Another $172,500 went to nonprofit partners for administrative costs.

After March 31, the Napa Valley Community Foundation will use remaining disaster relief fund money for what Mulligan called a “resiliency” phase. Details will come later, but the idea is to make Napa County better prepared for future disasters.

“I think it’s likely we’ll have money left over from the disaster,” Mulligan said. “Meaning we’ll have money available when the next earthquake happens or next wildfire happens, God forbid.”

People can go to www.napavalleycf.org/apply to apply for Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund grants. Call the foundation at 707-254-9565.

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