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Earthquake aid comes too late

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Emergency or not, it took three years before federal money meant to help repair earthquake-damaged homes reached SLO County. Then, after a failed two-year search, there was seemingly no one left to spend that money on, so it’s being spent elsewhere.

In early 2004, less than one month after the earthquake, President George W. Bush declared SLO County a federal disaster area. About two years later the county was awarded $1 million, $340,000 of which was intended to help low- and moderate-income residents with earthquake-damaged homes. It took still another year before the money was actually awarded and the contracts were approved.

During the three-year limbo period, anyone who could have used that money to fix their home had either moved, done it themselves, or just could not be found.

“We’re in the business … of going out and helping folks and working on their houses and that was our intention,” said Jim McNamara of the Economic Opportunity Commission of SLO County, “and it’s frustrating that it took so darn long to get the funding and we would have been happy to do the work.”

Not one person was found once the money was available, at least not anyone who fell into the proper income category and lived in an unincorporated area of the county. McNamara said the EOC used existing resources to repair minor damage before the federal money was available. Significant repairs, however, were too expensive for the EOC to cover, he added.

The funding took so long because it was issued by the federal government, then passed to the state, and finally given to the local level; all of which required miles of red tape.

“It’s just bureaucracy,” County Planner Tony Navarro said.

With no one left to spend the money on, it’s been shifted largely toward fixing the Oceano sewer. Another $25,000 was redirected to the Mission Community Services Corporation for industry training programs. SLO County supervisors approved the new funding allocations on March 17.

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