Hurricane Ian federal assistance for survivors nears $500M, SBA loans
A key player in President Biden’s Cabinet and for Southwest Florida’s future saw the enormities of what’s ahead as she toured some of Hurricane Ian’s hard-hit areas late Tuesday.
“This is being called one of the most significant disasters in American history, definitely in Florida,” said Isabella Casillas Guzman, U.S. Small Business Administration head, then referencing the 2005 hurricane that clobbered the New Orleans region.
“Ever since Katrina, we haven’t seen anything of this magnitude, and so obviously, it’s significant in the loss of life, and it has really impacted the community. It’s definitely a long-term build.”
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Guzman grasped the pain being felt after witnessing what’s left of Fort Myers Beach in the wake of Ian, which officially claimed 109 Florida lives including 54 in Lee County and five in Collier.
“You could see it in the devastation of the local businesses that we visited with,” she said. “It’s going to take some time before this is an environment that’s safe and accessible.”
But Guzman also saw the belief, the optimism, the love of community.
“I saw it in all the commitments,” she said. “They are going to rebuild. This is obviously a very special place. (You) will see that, with that commitment there, and the small businesses and their will to just move forward. It’s going to happen, and we want to make sure that we can support them in that effort.”
Isolating at home with a mild case of COVID-19 and unable to come to Southwest Florida with President Biden earlier this month, Guzman said it was important for her to make Tuesday’s trip to learn first-hand the challenges and needs of local residents.
“SBA’s mission-driven team stands ready to help Florida small businesses and residents impacted by this disaster in every way possible,” she said. “We’re committed to providing federal disaster loans swiftly and efficiently.”
$75B in damage expected to rise
The Biden administration is helping do that by opening at least three SBA Business Recovery Centers in Southwest Florida.
• The Naples Players, 701 Fifth Ave. S., Naples. Opens at 9 a.m. every day and closes at 4:30 p.m. on Mondays and 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
• The Hub at SWFL Inc., 25071 Chamber of Commerce Drive, Bonita Springs. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Sunday.
• Kiwanis Club of Cape Coral, 360 Santa Barbara Blvd. S., Cape Coral. Times are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and closed on other days.
“The goal here is for resiliency and recovery,” said Allen M. Thomas, appointed by Biden as SBA regional administrator. “Even if you think that you have insurance coverages, sometimes that may take many, many months, also, with the paperwork. But many times you can come in now and literally get funds in your hands within days versus waiting months and months to be able to get our sources.
“And then if insurance comes through, they can always take out the SBA component and you’ll already have been down the road getting your recovery in place.”
With the beach and coastal spots still in massive disarray, the obstacles remain after being one of America’s most violent hurricane impact sites ever on Sept. 28 by Category 4 Ian. The behemoth’s overall toll has been estimated by reinsurance brokerage Stonybrook Capital to reach at least $75 billion, the highest ever by far for a storm making Florida landfall.
The insurance-linked securities markets “fear, and have already priced-in, the worst outcome and suggest that the Ian loss could well be close (to) $75 billion and agree with the sentiment of Stonybrook Capital that it is above and perhaps significantly above $75 billion,” said Morton Lane, who has headed consulting firm Lane Financial since 1995.
‘All of Times Square basically flushed right into our hotel and restaurant’
Battered businesses include the Lighthouse Resort Inn and Suites, which sits on San Carlos Bay, about 200 feet from the now calm waves, among other venues that Tommy Kolar operates adjacent to the base area of the bridge entering Estero Island.
“I feel very blessed that everything is still there, but it did get hit quite a bit. All of Times Square basically flushed right into our hotel and the courtyard of our restaurant so we got beat up pretty bad,” Kolar said. “Our main focus right now has been clean up and trying to get our people back to work. We’ve offered them all jobs to help clean up and help get businesses back up and operating.”
An infusion of cash is going to be critical for beach businesses in the interim while waiting for insurance companies to complete their processes, Kolar said.
“The biggest challenge for us right now at the two restaurants at the beach is going to be getting equipment. All of our equipment is totally ruined. (A) major thing is going to be temporary funding to help with the construction costs and buildout costs of the part of the hotel,” he said. “If we can get our hands on the proper equipment we could be up back and running in a month, month and a half, two months, get our people back to work.”
To get through, Biden has authorized Southwest Florida enterprises and private nonprofit organizations of any size to borrow up to $2 million to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery and equipment, inventory and other assets.
“They apply for physical damage as well as economic injury loans,” Thomas said. “We continue this path of recovery.”
The Economic Injury Disaster Loans help small endeavors and most private nonprofit organizations meet working capital needs caused by the disaster.
“Loans to get your business back up in order or your homes — that’s what SBA is here to do in cooperation with emergency officials in the state of Florida and obviously with FEMA and others as we work to give you long-term resources for long-term recovery,” Thomas said.
Nearly $500 million provided
Depending on the type of loan and for an application to be processed, merchants and residents will need to provide current info such as personal statement, an ID, tax returns and list of debts, based on the sba.gov/disaster site, Thomas said.
“Whether you have any or all of this, come anyway,” he said. “Let’s get you moving and get you in the system and get the process going. (It) is time to reach out. Let’s get you to the path forward.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, SBA said it had approved $85 million in low-interest loans to affected homeowners, renters and business owners, much of it in Southwest Florida. FEMA has provided $477 million in assistance so far, a lot of that in the region as well.
The filing deadline to return SBA applications for physical property damage is Nov. 28. The deadline to return economic injury applications is June 29, 2023.
Disaster loans up to $200,000 are available to homeowners to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate. Homeowners and renters are eligible for up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed personal property.
“We do offer a full gamut of loans to fit any person or circumstance,” said Terrell Perry, an SBA specialist. “We also have mitigation loans to guard against the next time.”
As an example, those mitigation loans can help residents pay for hurricane shutters or elevating homes before the next storm hits.
“We do urge you to consider mitigation in your rebuilding plans,” Perry said. “It’s the cheapest money you can find.”
With a long-term, low-interest SBA loan, she said a homeowner could pay $45 a month for a $10,000 hurricane mitigation project. Interest rates on SBA loans for homeowners and renters are as low as 2.2%.
“SBA encourages people to take a loan because it allows them to help to make themselves whole,” Perry said. “If they are approved and wonderful, they get to repair their homes and replace their contents. If they are declined for any reason, then they get to go back to FEMA for what is called ‘Other Needs Assistance’.
“That opens up a door with FEMA that allows FEMA to pay for rental assistance, medical, dental, legal, child care, all kinds of things and we highly encourage people, everyone to apply with SBA because it is an avenue toward recovery. Period. If you get a loan, wonderful. And if you get referred back to FEMA, you still win.”
Property owners hit with a large deductible for Ian repairs can also get an SBA loan to spread out the cost, and loans can be used to pay for other items insurance doesn’t cover, such as landscaping removal and fence replacement, Perry said.
More:Hurricane Ian: Joe Biden brings rebuilding help to ravaged Southwest Florida
And:‘Challenging infrastructure’ tests FMB recovery, redevelopment | In the Know
Plus:Amid Hurricane Ian’s devastation on Fort Myers Beach, hope persists to rebuild
Where to Find More Help
♦ The Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan program provides short-term, zero-interest working capital loans that are intended to “bridge the gap” between the time a disaster impacts a business and when it can secure longer-term recovery funding, such as federally or commercially available loans. On Google, search “rebuild Florida business loan fund.”
♦ Disaster unemployment assistance is available to Florida businesses and residents. It’s for weeks of unemployment from Sept. 25 to April 1. For assistance call 1-800-385-3920, go to a local CareerSource Career Center or online to floridajobs.org.
More:Amid rising death toll, more glimmers of light in Ian aftermath for SWFL
And:Devastation from Hurricane Ian worse than Charley, Sanibel police chief says
Plus:Groups attempt to bring supplies to Pine Island as part of Operation Airdrop
♦ The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has activated the Business Damage Assessment Survey. Businesses affected by Ian can complete a damage assessment survey by visiting floridadisaster.biz/BusinessDamageAssessments and selecting “Hurricane Ian.”
Based at the Naples Daily News, Columnist Phil Fernandez (email@example.com) writes In the Know as part of the USA TODAY NETWORK, which supplemented this report. Support Democracy and subscribe to a newspaper.