How to get help from FEMA
Natural disasters devastate homes and cause thousands upon thousands of dollars in damages. When the damage reaches a certain threshold, the federal government declares some counties disaster areas and allows affected homeowners to apply for financial assistance from FEMA.
FEMA encourages affected homeowners to apply for assistance, even if they don’t believe they need it. Oftentimes, homeowners try to rebuild and make repairs on their own and end up draining their savings in the process, before they even finish their recovery.
If you live in a declared disaster zone and sustained damage, follow the steps below for requesting help from FEMA, as well as the Small Business Association, which provides assistance to homeowners and businesses.
Getting help from FEMA
If a disaster damaged your home and you live in an area covered by a disaster declaration, you can apply for FEMA assistance. Check to see if you live in such an area by vising the FEMA website or contacting your local emergency management office.
Where you can apply:
• Online at disasterassistance.gov
• By mobile device at m.fema.gov.
• By phone at 800-621-3362. Phone hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week.
• Victims with speech impairments, or those with hearing loss who use TTY, should call 800-462-7585. Victims who use 711 or Video Relay Service should call 800-621-3362.
• Check with your county’s emergency management office to see if FEMA operates a recovery center where you can apply for assistance in person.
Registration typically takes 15 to 20 minutes.
What you need when you apply:
• Social Security number
• Zip code
• Current contact number
• An address to receive postal service mail
• Date of damage
• Directions to your home
• Insurance contact information and policy numbers
• Gross family income
• Description of damages
• Bank routing number (optional if you want a direct deposit)
FEMA gives you an ID number after you apply. Write down the number and keep it in a safe place. You’ll need the number for future communication with FEMA, and you may need to use it in place of personal identification if the flood destroyed your other documents.
You can create an online account to keep track of your registration, and to update your insurance and bank account information.
What happens after you apply:
Flood victims should expect to hear from FEMA within 10 days of applying for assistance, although timing may vary. The agency will send inspectors to determine whether residents qualify for assistance, and if so, for how much.
During the inspection:
Inspectors will verify your name, address and FEMA registration number, but they will not ask for your Social Security number.
The inspection is free. FEMA cautions residents to avoid potential scammers who may try to charge you for an inspection.
Inspectors typically take 30 to 60 minutes to assess the damaged property and take photos. Inspectors, who don’t determine assistance eligibility themselves, will send their results to FEMA electronically.
After the inspection:
Typically, FEMA will send a letter within 10 days of an inspection to notify you of your eligibility.
If eligible, FEMA will send a check and letter explaining how you can spend the money. Be sure to follow FEMA’s guidelines for using the funds.
What to expect from FEMA:
FEMA can’t duplicate assistance that may be covered by your homeowners insurance policy. If your insurance covers all of your hotel costs, for example, FEMA can’t cover the same hotel costs. But if your insurance doesn’t cover costs such as temporary shelter or flood damage, FEMA may reimburse you for those disaster-related expenses.
Types of FEMA assistance include:
• Rental payments for temporary housing. Initial assistance can cover up to three months for homeowners and at least one month for renters. FEMA may extend assistance if requested, based on a review of individual applicant requirements.
• Payment for home repairs and replacement of essential household items not covered by insurance, to make damaged dwellings safe, sanitary and functional.
• Money to replace personal property or to meet medical, dental, funeral, transportation and other serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance or other federal, state or charitable aid programs.
• Unemployment payments up to 26 weeks for workers who temporarily lost jobs because of the disaster and who do not qualify for state benefits, such as self-employed individuals.
• Low-interest loans to cover residential losses not fully compensated by insurance. Up to $200,000 for primary residence. Up to $40,000 for personal property, including renter losses. Up to $2 million for business property losses not fully compensated by insurance.
• Loans of up to $2 million for small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and most private, nonprofit organizations that suffered disaster-related cashflow problems and need funds to recover from the disaster’s economic impact. This loan, in combination with a property loss loan, cannot exceed a total of $2 million.
• Other relief programs include: Crisis counseling for those traumatized by the disaster; income tax assistance for filing casualty losses; advisory assistance for legal, veterans’ benefits and Social Security matters.
What if FEMA denies your application for assistance?
You might still be able to get assistance from FEMA, even if the agency sends you a denial letter. Pay attention to what the denial letter says. If it states your application is ineligible or incomplete, you can provide additional information, such as insurance documents or the status of an insurance claim.
If you’re not sure why the agency denied your claim, you can ask by calling (800) 621-3362 or visiting a disaster recovery center, if one is open in your area.
You have 60 days from the agency’s denial to appeal the decision. You must write, sign and mail or fax the appeal—the agency doesn’t accept e-mailed appeals.
FEMA - Appeals Officer
National Processing Service Center
PO Box 10055
Hyattsville, Md. 20782-8055
Getting help from the Small Business Association
The SBA offers low-interest loans to homeowners and renters, as well as businesses and nonprofit organizations. Loan amounts vary based on the individual’s financial situation, and the SBA will set terms up to 30 years. Even if homeowners aren’t interested in obtaining a loan, they’re still encouraged to apply, because doing so may allow further assistance through other avenues. For example, if the SBA denies your application, they may refer you back to FEMA for further financial help.
Disaster victims must register for help through FEMA before applying for an SBA loan.
Where to apply:
• Online: https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/
• By mail: printable forms available online.
• In person: Flood victims can visit disaster recovery centers to apply for SBA loans.
Phone: You can’t apply over the phone, but if you have questions about the process, you may contact the SBA at 800-659-2955.
What you’ll need when you apply:
• Contact information for all applicants
• Social Security numbers for all applicants
• FEMA registration number
• Deed or lease information
• Insurance information
• Financial information (e.g., income, account balances and monthly expenses)
• Employer Identification Number for business applicants
What to expect:
The SBA offers the following loans:
• Up to $200,000 for homeowners to repair or replace real estate
• Up to $40,000 for homeowners and renters to replace personal property
• Up to $2 million for business to repair or replace property and equipment
Sources: FEMA, Small Business Association