Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s request for federal assistance from the Small Business Administration for Pittsburg and Bryan counties in the wake of the April 30 tornadoes was granted Wednesday — but the News-Capital confirmed the Federal Emergency Management Agency will not offer individual assistance.

Since the SBA request is approved, low-interest loans can be sought from those in Pittsburg and Bryan counties who have uninsured homes or businesses that received major damage from the tornadoes, severe storms, straight-line winds and floods that began on April 30.

However, the Oklahoma Office of Emergency Management is declining to file for individual assistance for storm victims through FEMA. A FEMA, SBA and emergency management team was in Pittsburg County last week to assess the damage.

The News-Capital inquired about the status of FEMA’s damage assessment to Pittsburg County. Oklahoma Office of Emergency Management Public Information Officer Keli Cain outlined the procedure.

“What we do after a tornado or any type of storm that does damage is determine damages,” Cain said. “Both FEMA and SBA have slightly different criteria.

“Pittsburg County has 41 homes with major damages or that were destroyed, and 10 businesses. We can count that as 51 homes and businesses for Pittsburg County,” she said.

“Pittsburg County also had 90 homes and four businesses with minor damage,” she said. “FEMA and SBA look at the total damaged or destroyed.”

“That doesn’t mean that people whose homes had minor damage wouldn’t qualify for SBA assistance,” she added. “They could use low-interest disaster loans to repair property, replace destroyed property, or contract for repairs.”

Low-interest SBA loans could even be used to repair or replace autos damaged through the storms, she said.

“For people who still have a loan on a house that was destroyed or damaged, the SBA will work with them to incorporate that loan into into an SBA loan, so they won’t have two loans on the house,” Cain said.

Stitt’s office said the loans can also be used by businesses that have suffered economic losses because of the storms.

Cain said there has to be enough uninsured or under-insured homes to qualify for individual FEMA assistance. That’s sometimes in the form of grants, instead of loans.

“We look at the population to see if there is enough for a presidential disaster declaration,” she said.

“Based on what we’ve seen in past individual assistance requests, this particular event for Pittsburg and Bryan counties has seen ‘major damages or destroyed,’ but it does not meet the threshold of what we’ve typically seen approved in past requests for individual assistance,” Cain said.

“What we do is look 10 years in the past,” Cain said. “There’s not a specific number we have to meet, but based on history and our experience with other disaster declaration requests, this did not meet the (FEMA) threshold.”

“We wanted to make the request for SBA assistance now, so they could get in sooner, rather than later,” Cain said. “They have a specific requirement of 25 homes in a county that received major damage or destroyed that were uninsured”

Cain said although individual assistance won’t be forthcoming from FEMA, teams are still assessing damage that might make public assistance — such as assistance to municipalities and counties — available.

“We still have people in the area looking at other damages, in public infrastructure and debris removal,” Cain said, citing a couple of examples.

“There’s not an exact threshold you have to reach with FEMA,” Cain said. SBA has a mandate of at least 25 homes to meet the agency’s requirement, she noted

Cain said one of the silver linings is that now all of the counties that are contiguous to Pittsburg and Bryan counties will also be eligible to apply for the SBA loans if the governor’s requested is granted.

That means Atoka County, that did not have enough storm damage on its own to qualify for the SBA program, is now qualified because it borders Pittsburg County, she said, citing one example.

Now, Atoka, Choctaw, Coal, Haskell, Hughes, Johnston, Latimer, Marshall, McIntosh, and Pushmataha counties will also be qualified for inclusion in the SBA program — if the governor’s request is granted, Cain said.

None of them would have had enough damage to qualify for SBA assistance on their own, Cain said.

Why not go ahead and make a FEMA individual assistance request and see what happens?

“We don’t want to hold up the process for FEMA,” Cain said. She said usually the turn-around time for an SBA disaster assistance request is about a week, where with FEMA, it can take up to a month or two months.

“There’s not a specific number, but we’ve seen we need at least from 80-to-100 homes with major damage or destroyed,” Cain said of the historic requirement for FEMA individual assistance. “Pittsburg County had 51 homes and businesses damaged or destroyed.”

Cain said that’s unfortunate for those who were hoping for individual FEMA assistance.

“It’s a difficult system. We understand that,” she said. “Our main goal is to get assistance in as quickly as possible. We could make a request that would be denied.

“We made a recommendation,” she said, referring to the SBA request. “This is our first request with Governor Stitt. We are working through the process with the new governor.”

If the SBA disaster declaration is accepted by the federal government, details on procedures to apply for the SBA loans will be released when available.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com