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A Helping Hand: CTA’s Disaster Relief Fund assists in the wake of California’s wildfires

“Having the union there to help means the world.” - Shasta Secondary Education Association President Gary Connolly

As unprecedented wildfires raged throughout California, CTA and its local chapters went into overdrive to help members, students and communities survive and rebuild.

In a matter of days in early August, the Mendocino Complex Fire exploded to become the largest wildfire in modern state history. At press time, dry winds had pushed the fire to ravage over 200,000 acres in the region near Clear Lake and it was far from containment. Further north, the Carr Fire near Redding continued to spread as the local community prepared for back to school. Firefighters worked day and night to battle over a dozen fires throughout the state.

Folks who have been displaced or lost everything are turning to their union for help, and CTA has been there for them.

In Redding, 45 families applied for aid through CTA’s Disaster Relief Fund. The fund – paid for through contributions from fellow union members – was created to provide financial assistance to CTA members who have faced significant loss due to disasters in California.

Thirty-five of those applications were from families who suffered a complete loss of their home according to Gary Connolly, a social science teacher at Shasta High School and president of Shasta Secondary Education Association. Connolly, who has been teaching in the region for 19 years, has been working to get immediate assistance to those in need and get the word out to colleagues about the CTA Fund.

“Our executive board met immediately and approved assistance for those in need. Finding folks wasn’t easy considering the evacuations and summer vacations but we are a tight-knit community and having folks’ information on hand through the union helped immensely. Our communication chains were strong before the wildfires and they are still strong.”

After helping disperse immediate cash assistance, Connolly worked with the regional CTA office staff to get the word out about the Disaster Relief Fund.

“Everyone I’ve talked to about the fund is beyond grateful for the support.” Connolly says. “The application process is simple and quick and the local CTA office staff have helped folks fill out the applications. Those who have lost everything are dealing with so much. I’ve sat with my coworkers and I’ve seen the devastation. Having the union there to help means the world.”

At least one elementary school is closed for repairs after experiencing significant damage in the wildfires.

“We’re also thinking ahead about kids who have lost homes, too,” says Connolly. “We’re coming together to make sure they have what they need when they come back to school.”

How to Get Help

Members who have been impacted by the fires or have suffered other significant losses can take advantage of CTA’s Disaster Relief Fund.

The fund provides four different grants:
• Standard: Up to $1,500 for significant economic hardship related to damage to the member’s primary residence, displacement, or disruption in required utilities.
• Catastrophic: Recipients of the Standard Grant may be eligible for up to another $1,500 if damages exceed $50,000.
• Temporary Displacement: Up to $500 for members who are displaced from their primary residence as the result of a disaster (for more than 7 days), but do not meet all the requirements for a Standard Grant.
• School Site: Up to $500 for damage to classrooms.

Any active CTA, Student CTA or CTA/NEA-Retired member in good standing is eligible to apply. For more information, go to ctamemberbenefits.org/drf.

NEA Member Benefits has a new Disaster Relief Program for those affected by FEMA-declared disasters, such as the wildfires in Shasta County. Many NEA MB benefit partners are offering special assistance to members in need. Go to neamb.com/disaster-assistance.htm for details.

Main photo caption: A plane modified for fire-fighting efforts releases fire retardant over Shasta County, California, during the Carr Fire in early August 2018.  Credit: California National Guard, Flickr

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