Disaster Relief: Financial Assistance Options

Experts we've interviewed say that the severity of a natural disaster affects the time it takes to receive financial assistance.

Remember to contact all possible options for assistance: your insurance agent, American Red Cross, The Salvation Army and other faith- based organizations.

WHN EXPERT TIP: Disaster Assistance

Anyone affected by a federal disaster can apply for disaster assistance — you don’t need to have insurance. Read Filing for Disaster Relief - it tells about calling for relief and the types of federal and state assistance available.

If your area is declared a federal disaster area the main source for financial assistance is Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

  • Call FEMA to apply for disaster assistance:
    (800) 621-FEMA (3362).
  • Speech-or hearing-impaired may call
    (TTY) (800) 462-7585.

When you call FEMA, you will be assigned a registration identification number.

WHN EXPERT TIP: Registration Time

Ask how long it will take for your registration to be processed - don't apply twice. According to FEMA, registering more than once delays your application.

In most cases, a FEMA inspector will telephone to make an appointment to visit your damaged home and assess the losses.

Write down:
- Inspector's name
- Date(s) of calls
- Date(s) and time(s) of appointment(s)
- Expected actions from you and from the inspector
- Best way to reach him/her
- Where they are based in the area

WHN EXPERT TIP: Home Inspection

It is not required that you be present for the inspection. You can make arrangements with the inspector for someone else to go thorugh with him or her in your absence — either a designated relative, friend over 18 years of age or a FEMA representative.

Day of FEMA Inspection

FEMA lists the following points to remember during inspections:

  1. Generally, FEMA staff in the field wear blue short-sleeved collared T-shirts with the letters FEMA in white over the right breast. They also wear blue long-sleeved plastic windbreakers with FEMA across the back and blue hats with FEMA across the top. When not working a disaster, FEMA staff in headquarters and wear business attire.
  2. WHN STAFF TIP: FEMA Inspector and Photo ID

    Now that we've said this - don't rely on clothing insignias alone for identification. All inspectors wear a current photo identification badge.

  3. All FEMA inspectors carry a hand-held computer. It has information about the person whose household is being inspected. The computer is only for FEMA programs and has no use to anyone else.
  4. You will be asked for some proof of occupancy and you must show proof of ownership (house deed, lease agreement, electric/gas/water bill, bank statement, voter registration, etc.).
  5. Inspectors do not determine any dollar amounts. They only inspect and document damage.
  6. Inspectors do not carry money or ask for money.
  7. Read our article called Questions for Your FEMA Official - it lists starter questions you can ask while on the phone or in person.

After the Inspection

  1. For those eligible for assistance, a check should arrive seven to ten days after the inspection.
  2. If you change your address, update your information with FEMA — (800) 621-FEMA.
  3. If your home is inaccessible and cannot be inspected, FEMA may offer rental assistance while the recovery process continues.
  4. You may receive a letter declaring you are ineligible for FEMA disaster assistance. FEMA reviews your and applies the same eligibility criteria. You can get an explanation or more information by calling FEMA's helpline (800) 621-3362.
  5. WHN EXPERT TIP: Rejected for Assistance?

    If your letter says you are ineligible for FEMA assistance and you would like to appeal, you must do so in writing within 60 days of the date on FEMA's decision letter. This does not mean the date you received the FEMA letter, it means the date written on the FEMA letter itself. All appeals are reviewed by FEMA.

    Using FEMA Funds

    1. The money you get from FEMA and other federal assistance agencies is designed to meet your housing and personal property needs related to the disaster. You will receive a letter from FEMA telling you what the money covers. FEMA will also send an Applicant's Guide booklet which includes more information.
    2. The money and aid, unfortunately, cannot cover all costs. For instance, FEMA cannot pay utility bills. However, local charitable organizations may be able to help for a short period. Consider contacting the American Red Cross to find an organization that may be able to help.
    3. FEMA’s disaster assistance program doesn't cover food losses. Area volunteer organizations may help with immediate food needs.
    4. FEMA may also ask you to send in copies of receipts of housing and personal property purchases. FEMA suggests you write your name, Social Security number, disaster and registration numbers on all pages of your documents and keep copies for your own records. The mailing address is:

      FEMA - Individual and Households Program
      National Processing Service Center
      P.O. Box 10055
      Hyattsville, MD 20782-7055

      You can also fax information to: (800) 827-8112

    Small Business Administration (SBA) Loans
    The Small Business Administration is also a source of financial assistance to homeowners and renters as well as business owners who are victims of disasters. For an overview of and FAQs about this assistance, go here.

    WHN EXPERT TIP: Loan Completion?

    You MUST complete your SBA loan information in order to receive disaster assistance from FEMA and other organizations. If you do not complete and send in your application, it delays financial assistance.

    1. You DO NOT have to own a business to be eligible.
    2. SBA loans are a source of long-term recovery assistance. Interest rates are generally lower than usual and can remain fixed for a term as long as 30 years. Actual loan amounts and terms are determined by the SBA and based on each applicant's financial condition.
    3. After you have called the FEMA registration number, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) may send you a loan application packet. Again, in order to be eligible for other types of assistance, you must complete and return the SBA packet.
    4. You do not need to wait for an insurance settlement to apply with SBA.
    5. If you need help in completing the application, head to the nearest FEMA Disaster Recovery Center. There may be SBA program information or a SBA representative. If not, ask for help finding the location(s).

    6. WHN EXPERT TIP: FEMA and Other Options

      FEMA notes that completing an application doesn't guarantee the application will be approved, nor does it mean that you must accept the loan. If you are denied a loan, you will be automatically referred to other available disaster assistance programs such as the Other Needs Assistance (ONA) program. ONA may include medical, dental, funeral expenses, furniture, clothing and other eligible expenses resulting from the disaster.

    7. With SBA, you may be eligible to receive funding or low-interest loans for:
      • Debris removal expenses
      • Medical, dental or transportation expenses
      • Outbuilding and landscaping losses or damages
      • Temporary rental housing
      • Temporary repairs

      WHN EXPERT TIP: Loan Repayment?

      Loans from the Small Business Administration must be repaid.

      Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA)

      The U.S. Department of Labor's Disaster Unemployment Assistance provides financial assistance to individuals whose employment or self-employment has been lost or interrupted as a direct result of a major disaster declared by the President of the United States.

    8. USDA - Disaster Assistance Programs

      The Farm Service Agency provides assistance for farms who have experienced natural disaster losses, resulting from drought, flood, fire, freeze, tornadoes, pest infestation, and other calamities.