Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Justice

Does The Government Help Pay To Rebuild Homes Burned Down By Wildfires? Barely.

A home destroyed by the Carr Fire in Redding, Calif. is pictured in this unda...

Credit: Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Above: A home destroyed by the Carr Fire in Redding, Calif. is pictured in this undated photo.

Does The Government Help Pay To Rebuild Homes Burned Down By Wildfires? Barely.


Ben Adler, Capitol Bureau Chief, Capital Public Radio


As California lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown debate who should pay for the billions of dollars in wildfire damages, residents might wonder how much government help is available to rebuild their homes.

The answer? Not much.

When the president approves a Major Disaster Declaration for a California wildfire — and federal funding starts flowing into the state — there are two kinds of help.

There is public assistance, to fight the fire and rebuild public roads and buildings. And sometimes there is also individual assistance.

“That money that’s available to individuals is limited, because it’s a federal grant program and we definitely cannot make people whole,” said Brandi Richard with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The maximum available assistance for an individual from a FEMA grant? Approximately $32,000. And there are no state grants, according to the California Office of Emergency Services.

You can spend the federal individual assistance money to repair or replace a damaged or destroyed home, vehicle or other property, or it can go toward short-term living expenses until you can return home, such as a hotel room or apartment rental.

But even that has a catch: FEMA individual grants can only be used for a purpose not already covered by another government agency or your insurance.

“Let’s say your home was damaged and you’re receiving assistance to repair your home for the same damages that we’ve given you money for, we can’t do that,” Richard said. “That’s not a good use of taxpayer dollars.”

On Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown requested a Presidential Emergency Declaration for Direct Federal Assistance to help the state battle the deadly Carr Fire near Redding. President Trump and FEMA granted that request on Saturday.

“This federal assistance includes air assets to mitigate the impacts of this fire, shelter supplies and water for evacuated residents, and support with mass care, ambulatory transport and the evacuation of individuals with access and functional needs as well as large animals,” Brown’s office said in a press release.

A request for individual assistance from the federal government was not included but could come later.


San Diego News Now podcast branding

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.

  • Need help keeping up with the news that matters most? Get the day's top news — ranging from local to international — straight to your inbox each weekday morning.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Midday Edition banner

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.