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, 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 less expensive 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. This is why homeowners insurance and flood insurance are so important. Click here for more types of insurance homeowners should buy.
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.
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 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
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 claim was denied by your insurance company.
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 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.