When a natural disaster strikes, it can 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, fires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters 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’s important to note that you first need to file an insurance claim before you can file a claim through FEMA. This is important even if you know your claim will not be covered by insurance. For example, most homeowners insurance policies don’t cover flood damage.
You should always check your policy and purchase flood insurance separately if needed. This is essential if you live in a flood plain or coastal area.
Flood insurance can be expensive, but it can be much cheaper than paying out of pocket to repair flood-damaged items or replace your household goods. You can purchase flood insurance through the FEMA National Flood Insurance Program.
FEMA disaster assistance 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.
Types of FEMA Housing Needs Assistance
FEMA offers people in disaster areas different types of housing assistance to help them through the disaster. Examples of assistance include Temporary Housing, Repairs, Replacement, and Permanent Housing Construction.
Temporary 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.
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 it 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 kind 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, other needs arise, particularly needs including medical, food, water, power, and more.
FEMA may assist with disaster-related medical and dental costs, funeral and burial costs, clothing, fuel, cleanup items, transportation, moving and storage expenses, generator reimbursement, and more.
To qualify for this form of aid, you will need to meet specific 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.
FEMA Reimburses Some Generator Costs
Several years ago, our area was hit by a natural disaster, and my friends searched the neighboring counties until they were able to locate a store that still had generators available.
Finding a generator for sale during a natural disaster isn’t easy. They are difficult to find, prices are at a premium, and obtaining fuel is a test in patience. FEMA will reimburse generator costs for some people, but not in all cases.
From the FEMA FAQ page:
I was told that FEMA would reimburse me up to $800 for the purchase of a generator, is that true?
FEMA reviews requests for reimbursement of the cost of a generator on a case-by-case basis. The maximum eligible reimbursable amount is based on a determination of the median price of a generator sufficient to power an average-sized home.
You would not be eligible for reimbursement if you purchased the generator after your power was restored.
I need to call them today and let them know the situation because they heard this from a rumor, and there wasn’t any qualifying information given – the rumor stated that FEMA would reimburse people up to $800 for a generator.
Don’t buy a generator for the sole reason that you think FEMA will reimburse you. You may not be reimbursed, and you may be taking a generator someone else may need for medical conditions such as respirators, dialysis machines, and more.
If you need the generator, you should certainly buy it, be aware that reimbursement is not automatic.
How to Apply for FEMA Assistance
You 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.
Remember, you need to file your insurance claim first. FEMA Disaster Assistance is only designed to help cover costs not covered by your insurance policy. So you have to show FEMA your insurance company denied your claim.
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
After 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, 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 the claim). Remember, you must exhaust all other forms of assistance before receiving FEMA aid.
Important notes regarding FEMA home inspections:
- Contracted inspectors, not FEMA employees perform FEMA inspections. 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, the insurance policy at the address, utility bill, public records, etc.).
It can take up to 10 days after your inspection before your claim is approved or denied. The entire FEMA claims process can take several weeks because you will need first to get an insurance claim, wait for an inspection, then wait an additional ten 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 three 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.