Wildfires leave some businesses with few options
Filed by Ben Allen in Feature.
November 19, 2012
The following was written by KOSU’s Quinton Chandler.
Fire victims without home insurance in Cleveland and Creek counties had the option to replace or repair their homes through direct payments from FEMA. But, not everyone is eligible for these federal grants. Businesses have to look for help elsewhere. The only federal disaster money business owners can receive comes through loans. And if a loan is not an option they’ll have to find their own way to regain their feet.
“Came back the next day and found everything destroyed. I had no Idea that it would look like a warzone.”
“I probably had over 1,000 bolts of fabric, shelves full of laces trims… I could go on and on.”
“It’s hard to describe other than it looked like someone had dropped a bomb and your whole five acres and your house and your two out buildings were all burned.
The destruction and widespread losses from the summer’s fires can’t be explained with just words. Even those burned out of their homes and work struggle to paint a clear picture of what they lost.
“I wasn’t here but my son saw it go up and other people saw it go up and it didn’t take it long to just be gone.”
Barbara Guffey lives in Mannford one of the heavily damaged areas in Creek county. She and I are parked on the lot that used to hold the heart of an online business she ran through Ebay.
“I had my tool room all that right there. That’s where my son had built a garage right here and his trailer was right beside it. There’s a little shed and a trailer there’s his trailer.”
She has pictures of all five buildings. Heart shaped signs on one of the trailers describe its contents. Antiques, fabric, lace, and craft supplies.
“If you’d walk into Walmart and look at their section of arts and crafts and paints and brushes and buttons and all that…that’s what I had. I had a full store.
Since Barbara didn’t lose her home she won’t get direct cash assistance.
FEMA will not help in any way. Hold on a sec, Durl Kelton with the Small Business Administration says this isn’t FEMA’s job. But, we’ll hear from him in a bit. Let’s let Barbara finish.
“They will give you a loan but there’s so much attached to those loans that you would be better off with the same percentage rate that a bank would give you on a loan they don’t even give you a cut rate.”
Now it’s Durl’s turn. He says this is the SBA’s specialty.
“You mentioned earlier that there’s a maximum amount of grant aid FEMA can give. Is that why they don’t give grants to businesses?”
“The real function of FEMA is to provide as much as possible a safe, secure and sanitary place to live The real focus is emergency assistance, not long term recovery.”
The SBA offers loans to homeowners and to the businesses that lose buildings, inventory, and sales. Calling around I learned the SBA does offer lower interest rates. Bob Reed, Vice President of American Heritage Bank in Mannford says interest rates on their loans are generally a little below 6 percent. The SBA rates hit around 4 percent.
But, Barbara still says she’ll take a pass. She doesn’t like the idea of racking up more debt.
“I will at least see if I can recoup or take a loss on my taxes as far as the trailers and maybe the building, but I don’t know how I would prove the contents because I don’t have pictures.”
She does have receipts for her trailers and the deed of sale for the workshop. But the inventory could be a total loss.
If she changes her mind about the government. Barbara has until November 21st to replace her buildings with an SBA loan. After that she can only rely on the terms for private loans and her own business savvy.