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How to File A FEMA Claim

by Ryan Guina

When a natural disaster strikes, it can to get back to a normal way of life. For many people, that means taking each day at a time and trying to make your home livable again. For those who lost everything, it might mean trying to find safe shelter for a few days or longer. The good news is that there is help available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other organizations. We have updated this resource to help people file  a FEMA claim to help put their lives back in order.

FEMA Disaster Assistance

Tornadoes, winter storms, and hurricanes can cause massive damage. Many people who live in a federally designated disaster area may qualify for FEMA disaster assistance funds. This money is meant to assist people and businesses whose property was damaged or destroyed and whose losses are not covered by insurance. It is not intended to restore your damaged property to its condition before the disaster, it is only meant to help people with critical expenses that cannot be covered in other ways. This is why homeowners insurance and flood insurance are so important.

Types of FEMA Housing Needs Assistance

FEMA offers people in disaster areas different types of housing assistance to help them through the disaster. The types of assistance include Temporary Housing, Repairs, Replacement, and Permanent Housing Construction.

FEMA Housing AssistanceTemporary Housing (a place to live for a limited period of time): Temporary Housing can include a hotel stay, government provided housing, or a rental unit if available. More info about housing rental resources.

Repair: Money is available to homeowners to repair damage from the disaster to their primary residence that is not covered by insurance. The goal is to make the damaged home safe, sanitary, and functional.

Replacement: Funds may also be available to homeowners to replace their home destroyed in the disaster if is not covered by insurance.

Permanent Housing Construction: Direct assistance or money for the construction of a home. This type of help occurs only in insular areas or remote locations specified by FEMA, where no other type of housing assistance is possible.

Non-Housing Disaster Assistance Needs

Housing and shelter are generally the most important needs that most people experience after a disaster. However, there are other needs that arise, particularly needs including medical, food, water, power, and more. FEMA may provide assistance for disaster related medical and dental costs, funeral and burial costs, clothing, fuel, cleanup items, transportation, moving and storage costs, generator reimbursement, and more. To qualify for this form of aid, you will need to meet certain criteria, including living in a federal disaster area, your losses are not covered by insurance or other means, you have exhausted all other sources of assistance. Certain citizenship or residential status requirements may also apply.

How to apply for FEMA Assistance

DisasterAssistance.govYou can apply for FEMA assistance over the phone or online. In both cases, particularly over the phone, have patience. The system may be overloaded with many people trying to make claims at the same time. And remember, the people working for FEMA are doing their best to help you, extending them your patience and courtesy can go a long way in helping your claim get registered accurately.

When you make your claim, be sure to have the following information ready to make the process go more smoothly:

  • Your Social Security number.
  • Current and pre-disaster address.
  • A telephone number where you can be contacted.
  • Insurance information.
  • Total household annual income
  • A routing and account number from your bank (if you want to have disaster assistance funds transferred directly into your bank account)
  • A description of your losses that were caused by the disaster.

You will receive a FEMA claim number. Write this down and keep it! You will need it for future reference! You can make a claim at the FEMA Individual Assistance Center. You may also be eligible for aid from the Small Business Administration if you are a business owner.

After Applying for FEMA Assistance

FEMA Flood AssistanceAfter you apply for assistance, you should wait 24 hours to check the system for your claim status. This can be a long time to wait if you are in an emergency situation, so be sure to take care of yourself during this time. Get the help you need and worry about the aid later.

FEMA will send an inspector to your residence to inspect your damage and assess your needs. Be sure to have as much information to support your claim as possible. This can include copies of your insurance policy, pictures, and other information. If you have insurance, you need to have a copy of your insurance decision letter (settlement or denial of claim). Remember, you must exhaust all other forms of assistance before receiving FEMA aid.

Important notes regarding FEMA home inspections:

  • FEMA inspections are performed by contracted inspectors, not FEMA emplouyees. They merely report facts; they do not decide settlement issues.
  • FEMA inspections are free. DO NOT pay for a FEMA home inspection!
  • You must be able to show proof of ownership or occupancy (deed, tax forms, mortgage paperwork, driver’s license, insurance policy at the address, utility bill, public records, etc.).

It can take up to 10 days after your inspection before you claim is approved or denied. The entire FEMA claims process can take several weeks because you will need to first get an insurance claim, wait for an inspection, then wait an addirtional 10 days for the decision.

If you qualify for a FEMA grant. You will receive monetary aid in the form of a check or direct deposit, depending on the form you chose when you applied for aid. It is important to note that you can only spend the grant money on eligible expenses, which will be noted in your decision letter. If you use the money on other expenses, you may be required to refund the money to FEMA and may not be eligible for further aid. Keep your receipts for 3 years in the event of a FEMA audit.

The FEMA granted funds are tax free, do not have to be repaid, do not count as income for social security or other aid, and is exempt from garnishment, seizure, encumbrance, levy, execution, pledge, attachment, release, or waiver. The money may not be reassigned or transferred to another person.

If you do not qualify for a FEMA grant. You can still appeal FEMA’s decision. You will need to make your appeal in writing. Be thorough and be sure to include all information regarding your claim, including additional documents, photos, the FEMA claim number, and any other information you feel is vital for your case.

Frequently asked questions regarding FEMA claims: The FEMA website has a list of FAQ’s you can check for additional information. If you can’t find your answer there, I highly recommend calling a FEMA representative at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or visit a nearby Disaster Recovery Center. They should be able to assist you with your claim.

Photo credit: CR Artist, USDAgov


Published or updated October 31, 2012.
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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mr. ToughMoneyLove

FEMA, AIG, whatever – the U.S. government has become the nation’s insurance company and all taxpayers will be paying the premiums to our graves and beyond. Welcome to the brave new world of socialized risk.

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2 Ryan

I agree, MTML. I think aid should be given to those who sincerely need it for survival, not because they were “inconvenienced.” And I think there are a lot of people who respect that ideal. But there will always be those who are looking for handouts.

I also think FEMA has made some major improvements since Hurricane Katrina, and the current set up reduces the amount of fraud and waste that was so rampant in Katrina’s aftermath. I know it won’t be perfect, but I think it will be an improvement.

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3 Mr. ToughMoneyLove

Ryan – I’m sure those who are in need appreciate the info you are supplying. What concerns me is not the fraud (which is always present). Rather, private sector insurers are loving the increased role of FEMA and are going to wean themselves from insuring any risks associated with a weather disaster. This will force the feds into assuming an even greater role and will spread the cost to everyone. I for one don’t want to pay taxes to insure coastal property.

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4 Ryan

MTML, great point. But it’s a tough to make a determination of what aid should be given, and what should not be given.

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5 joan shelton

i was told i can request re-imbursement (partial) from fema for losses. for instance
refrigerated items due to no elec. power, need to get repairs on easement of trailer and skirting. i am 77 years old, have no home insurance (all state terminated mobile homes)

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6 Ryan

Joan, I’m sorry to hear about your losses in the hurricane, but happy to hear that they were minimal – all things considered. The best thing I can recommend is to contact FEMA directly and get their response on your particular claim. I wish you luck.

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7 Sherry Stansel

I have a claim and a # when i call it says they have no info in the system on me.just a few days ago I called and it gave me very little information. It said my claim was made September 15th. I have seen no inspector and I am not sure when I made my claim if the gentleman I spoke to got all my information.

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8 Ryan

Sherry: It takes some time after you file a claim for it to be processed and for the inspectors to come out. It can actually take a few weeks before the inspectors can come – remember, they are processing thousands of claims and there aren’t many inspectors to go around., The best thing I can do is tell you to have patience and try again.

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9 Ryan

Sherry, I recommend calling them and referencing your claim that is already in works. They may be able to make an adjustment.

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10 Sherry Stansel

I received your email, but how can I find out what the gentle men put on my claim because we have found other things after we made or claim. Do we just tell the inspector when he come or do we have to refile, or make adjustment?

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11 sandy

I just want to make sure that when you get FEMA assistance you do not have to claim it on your taxes as income. Is that correct??

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12 Ryan

Sandy, according to the FEMA website, Disaster Aid Is Not Taxable for federal income taxes or Social Security purposes.

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13 Larry

I was wondering does/will FEMA give an individual “rental assistance” and a grant for “real & personal” property? Or is it one or the other? Or is a case by case basis?

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14 Larry

Sorry forgot to mention in my question above “I was wondering does/will FEMA give an individual “rental assistance” and a grant for “real & personal” property? Or is it one or the other? Or is a case by case basis?” that this was regarding the flood damage in Illinois.

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15 Rylee

Vichelle, I am in the same boay. Just bought my car and fema declined me due to not insuring it yet. I bought it three days before storm. Insurance co. wouldnt insure bc storm coming in. I am now going to go thru the appeals process to see if fema can or can direct me to another charity that would take my case in. if u go forward and get anywhere, please contact me. I will do the same. I know ppl r getting $7500 for their cars and their car isnt even worth that amt. I just want what I lost, no more. Email me so I hv ur direct email so I can keep u posted. Good luck, this has been a disaster.

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16 Vichelle A. Frazier

Ryan,
I was caught in the disaster in Shelby County Tennessee back in May of this year. I lost my vehicle in the flood. I did not have liability coverage on the car, FEMA denied me three times, and I was also denied for a loan. It is becomming more and more difficult to get back and forth to work now-a-days. Is there any hope in sight. I thought FEMA was supposed to help. I know people who received over $5,000. from FEMA for no reason. All I want is to be able to keep my job! WHat to do?

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17 bernice stine

GOOD LUCK!!!!! A giant tree fell on my car during hurricain sandy,and totaled my car, i’m on social security disability,so i applied to fema requesting their help to replace my car,after gathering up all in fo they requested,about 4 weeks i get a letter asking to sign a declaration and release form which i did then sent back to wait an other 10 days,just to recieve a denial notice!!!!! I cried for hours,why is it that thoes who truely need help can’t seem to get it?so if ya think fema is going to come to your resque don’t hold your breath!!!!!!!!

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18 dawn

My boss is telling me that my paystubs are unavailable because the book keeper sent everything to Baltimore when she applied for FEMA assistance after the last hurricane. Could this be true?

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19 Ryan

Dawn, your company should keep records of all your pay stubs. I believe it is a requirement. You will need to take this up with your payroll department or contact FEMA to see what they can do to assist you. Best of luck.

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20 Antonio

Ryan,

I have liability coverage as required by law but did not have comprhensive on my vehicle what are the chances of FEMA providing assistance? thank you

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21 Ryan Guina

I’m sorry to hear about your damaged car, Antonio. To be honest, I don’t know anything about FEMA offering assistance for vehicles. You will need to contact them. Best of luck, and I hope the recovery is going well.

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22 Peggy Figueroa

Hello, Ryan,

Thank you for this site. It is very helpful. I have a small cafe that was without power for 7 days after hurricane Sandy. I lost all of the inventory, a week’s worth of sales and some equipment (air conditioner/heater) located on the roof was damaged and is not working. As the owner/operator I also lost my payroll for that week.

Does FEMA grant money help this type of loss?

Thanks again.

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23 Ryan Guina

Hello Peggy, The most common assistance I’ve heard of for small business owners comes in the form of loans. I know there is a big difference between a loan and a grant, since loans have to be repaid, and this has been one of the biggest complaints I’ve read about concerning FEMA’s aid for small businesses. There may be other options, however, I am not intimately familiar with all the options available. I wish you the best.

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24 charles

I was displaced from a hotel in Atlantic City due to Hurricane Sandy. My family and I had resided at the hotel for the past year due to the fact that it was all we could afford. All our personal belongings were destroyed excluding what we had on our backs. I applied for fa assistance and was contacted by an inspector to inspect the property, but how would be inspect the property being that it was a hotel and am I eligible for assistance.?

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25 Janai

Same with me Bernice and Vichelle. Im in IL we had very heavy rains and flooding. The inspector came out in a timely fashion like with 2-3 days, he told me I’d get a denial letter first, they deny everyone, appeal it and you will get assistance. I did that applied, got denied, appealed for them to still say no. They said I didn’t have enough damages to be eligible for a grant. I have over $5k of water damage with personal property damages coming up to that amount as well. I did apply for and get a SBA loan which I am grateful for no doubt but its just one more bill to add to the list of impending bills piling up since the flood. Unfortunately the loan is not going to even cover half the stuff I need done, at least not by a professional anyway, so I’m stuck DIY. I don’t exactly know who these programs help. Certainly not what I expected.

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