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Rowling & Associates Blog

Learn about Disaster Relief Options for the 2020 Wildfires

by Paxton Dolan

Currently, over 18,700 firefighters continue to battle 27 major wildfires in California. The damage is incredibly extensive and severe within our own state – and this is only made worse when the additional fires in Oregon and Washington are taken into consideration. If you or someone you know has been impacted by the fires, even if “just” evacuated or dealing with smoke and ash, there are programs being put into place to help! Read on to find out more about the various options for disaster relief.

Financial and Legal Relief

Numerous counties in California have been declared to be in a state of emergency. As of September 6th, these include Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, San Bernardino, and San Diego. The state of emergency order offers relief to residents of the affected counties who are unable to pay certain fees or produce certain documents that were destroyed as a result of the fires.

As of August 22nd, a Presidential Major Declaration was approved for the Lake, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Solano, and Yolo counties as well. This means that people living in those designated counties could be entitled to Federal funding for crisis counseling, housing, unemployment assistance, and legal services. If you have sustained losses in one of the areas mentioned above, you can apply for assistance by registering with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

In order to register, you will need the following information:

• Social Security Number (if you do not have a Social Security Number, use the SSN of a minor child in the household who is a U.S. Citizen, Non-Citizen National, or Qualified Alien)
• Annual Household Income
• Contact Information (phone number, mailing address, email address, and damaged home address)
• Insurance Information (coverage, insurance company name, etc.)
• Bank Account Information (if you are eligible to receive financial assistance, the money can be deposited in your account)

Please note: An email address is necessary in order to view your registration status online. If you don’t provide this, you will need to contact FEMA directly for updates to your registration.

Tax Relief

In addition to the various forms of financial and legal relief being provided by the emergency and disaster declarations, there are also some tax relief updates you will want to be aware of if you have been impacted by the wildfires.

Those who are victims of the California wildfires that began on August 14th have an extension to file 2019 tax returns. The individual tax-filing extension due on October 15th is now due on December 15th. The quarterly payroll and excise tax returns due November 2nd are now due December 15th. The calendar-year tax-exempt organizations extension due on November 15th is also now due on December 15th. Additionally, third quarter estimated tax payments due on September 15th are now extended to December 15th.

Please note: Although the date to file an extended 2019 tax return has been moved, the payment of 2019 taxes was due on July 15th, which means this should have been paid already and is not eligible for disaster relief.

Currently, this tax relief is extended to the following counties in California:

• Butte
• Lake
• Monterey
• Napa
• San Mateo
• Santa Cruz
• Solano
• Sonoma
• Yolo

As the situation continues to develop, additional counties may be added to the disaster area. Any counties added to the disaster area will automatically receive the same relief listed above. This relief applies to those who reside or own a business in the affected counties.

Likewise, the IRS has offered relief to victims of the Oregon wildfires that began on September 17th. Those residing or who own a business in the areas designated by FEMA as qualifying for individual assistance now have until January 15, 2021 to file extended 2019 tax returns and make any tax payments due during this time. Currently, the qualifying counties include the following:

• Clackamas
• Douglas
• Jackson
• Lane
• Lincoln
• Linn
• Marion

If you are living in any area declared by the President to be in a federally declared disaster, you may be able to deduct casualty and theft losses relating to your home, household items, and vehicles. You won’t be able to deduct casualty or theft losses covered by insurance, unless you reduce these losses by the amount of expected reimbursement. If you think you may be eligible for one of these deductions, please reach out to our tax team for help with determining your eligibility.

Should you receive a late filing or late payment penalty notice from the IRS for an original or extended filing, payment or deposit due date within the postponement period and you are residing in or own a business in one of the affected counties named above, simply contact the IRS via the number on the notice to have the penalty removed.

The California, Oregon, and Washington wildfires are affecting thousands of people in the U.S.

If you are one of these people, we strongly encourage you to take advantage of the disaster relief programs put in place by the government to help. If you have questions about the various options for tax relief you may qualify for, feel free to reach out to our tax team for assistance.

Stay well and stay safe!