Federal relief is now available for homeowners, renters and business-owners affected by January's heavy rains.


The Small Business Administration, which is best known for guaranteeing small business loans, is also in the disaster relief business.


"When there's a larger disaster, [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] gets involved. ... They're the ambulance on the scene," SBA spokesman Bill Koontz said Thursday. "We, on the other hand, are the long-term recovery arm of the federal government."


The SBA has set up shop at Hesperia City Hall for Victor Valley residents. There, they'll be offering disaster assistance loans to those affected by January's winter storms.


Even people who expect their insurance companies will eventually fully cover any damages or business losses sometimes apply for the low-interest loans, to speed up repairs, and then pay off the loans with the insurance payments.


Home disaster loans up to $200,000 are available with interest rates as low as 2.562 percent. Loans for the contents of homes are available for up to $40,000, including for renters. Business loans up to $2 million are available with interest rates as low as 4 percent.


But there is a "but" -- more than one, in fact: The SBA loans can be extended out over many years, with a low monthly payment ($100 is typical), but the recipient has to be good for the loan, meaning they must be employed, not have a terrible credit rating and will need collateral for physical loss loans of more than $14,000.


"We're not as tough as banks," said Koontz, but "we're not going to give someone more debt when they can't handle it."


And since this is the federal government, loan applicants who are behind on their taxes, student loans or child support payments will be required to bring those up to date before receiving a disaster assistance loan.


The SBA will be working out of the normally unused office at Hesperia City Hall until there's no more demand for disaster assistance services, but residents who want loans to cover physical damage done by January's storms must file by April 19. Business owners looking for economic injury disaster loans -- loans to cover a loss of business related to the storms -- have until November 16.


"You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain" by applying, Koontz said. "If you don't apply, you're shutting down all future disaster relief."


The Small Business Association's Disaster Loan Outreach Center is located at Hesperia City Hall, 9700 7th Avenue. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays. No appointments are required, and applicants are not obligated to take any loans they may qualify for. For more information, call 800-659-2955.


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star