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'No part of the state untouched': Biden approves emergency, major disaster declarations in California

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Public agencies and some eligible nonprofits can apply for reimbursement from the federal government for storm-related costs.


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JANUARY 18, 2023

Due to intense winter storms that led to 20 deaths and the forced evacuation of tens of thousands of California residents, President Joe Biden approved a California Emergency Declaration on Jan. 8, according to a press release from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office.

The emergency declaration as of Jan. 11 includes Alameda County as eligible for limited forms of federal assistance, according to city of Berkeley spokesperson Matthai Chakko.

Public agencies and some eligible nonprofits can apply for reimbursement from the federal government for storm-related costs, while the city of Berkeley may be reimbursed for storm-related staff overtime and purchases like emergency sign boards or sandbags, according to Chakko.

“This is geographically one of the largest disasters that California has ever experienced,” said Chris Dargan, spokesperson for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

Biden also approved a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration that currently only includes Santa Cruz, Sacramento and Merced Counties on Saturday. Dargan noted that counties must be added to the Presidential Major Disaster Declaration to be eligible for funding after damage assessments and validation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Presidential Major Disaster Declaration can also provide individual assistance for home and business owners and to repair infrastructure, according to Dargan.

Although Alameda County is not included in the disaster declaration, individuals in need of storm-related assistance should continue to check the Federal Emergency Management Agency website for referrals to agencies offering assistance, Chakko said.

In addition, residents and businesses impacted by the storm can claim a deduction for disaster loss and receive more time to file their taxes.

Alameda County also distributed 500 tents to houseless residents, as first reported by Berkeleyside. Together, Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville will receive 100 tents for distribution.

As of now, the city of Berkeley is using the break in the storms to assess damages and work with state congresswoman Barbara Lee’s office to determine if it can receive disaster relief support, according to Stefan Elgstrand, spokesperson for Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s office.

“Our Public Works and Parks Departments have responded to hundreds of calls for service during the storms, including localized flooding, power outages, downed trees, and mudslides,” Elgstrand said in an email.

Newsom also issued an executive order Monday that lifts work hour and employment period limitations to help adequately staff the emergency response, waives record replacement fees and allows health care facilities to waive certain codes to allow them to remain open.

Due to extensive damages and an uncertain timeline to assess them, Dargan noted that there is no current estimate of the financial impact of the storms on California. He said it could take a “long time” to do damage assessments and added that damage to roadways or structures may not be apparent for years.

“There’s practically no part of the state that was untouched from the series of atmospheric rivers that went through,” Dargan said.

Chrissa Olson is the lead housing and transportation reporter. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @chrissaolson.

JANUARY 18, 2023