6 Steps to Applying for FEMA assistance

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, 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 3 Steps to Filing for Federal Disaster Relief about calling for relief and the types of federal and state assistance available.

Step 1: Register with FEMA.

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.

Step 2: Arrange an appointment with FEMA inspector.

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 he or she is 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 through your home in your absence — either a designated relative, a friend over 18 years of age or a FEMA representative.

Step 3. Inspect Your Home with FEMA Official.

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 are at the headquarters and wear business attire.
  2. All inspectors wear a current photo identification badge. Be sure you see it.
  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.
FEMA: 14 Questions to Ask has starter questions you can ask while on the phone or in person.

Step 4. Receive the Determination from FEMA

  • For those eligible for assistance, a check should arrive seven to ten days after the inspection. NOTE: If you change your address, update your information with FEMA — (800) 621-FEMA (3362) (TTY 1-800-462-7585).
  • If your home is inaccessible and cannot be inspected, FEMA may offer rental assistance while the recovery process continues.
  • You may receive a letter declaring you are ineligible for FEMA disaster assistance. You can get an explanation or more information by calling FEMA’s helpline (800) 621-3362.

Step 5. Appeal an Unfavorable Decision

If you don’t agree with FEMAʹs determination of eligibility or the assistance provided, you have the right to appeal. You must appeal within 60 days of the date on your notification letter. Send appeal letters to:

  • Appeals Officer
    FEMA ‐ Individuals & Households Program
    National Processing Service Center
    P.O. Box 10055
    Hyattsville, MD 20782‐7055

For questions, call the FEMA Helpline, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET, 7 days a week:

  • 1-800-621-FEMA (1-800-621-3362)
  • TTY 1-800-462-7585
  • 711 or VRS 1-800-621-3362

Step 6. Use the FEMA Funds

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.

All money offered by FEMA is tax-free and must be used as stated in your award letter. This includes renting another place to live, making repairs, or repairing or replacing personal property. Failure to use the money as required may disqualify you from other assistance.

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 Red Cross to find an organization that may be able to help.

FEMA’s disaster assistance program doesn’t cover food losses. Area volunteer organizations may help with immediate food needs.

Additional Disaster Sources

Disaster Loan from the U. S. Small Business Administration (SBA)

The SBA is also a source of financial assistance to homeowners and renters as well as business owners who are victims of disasters, through its SBA disaster assistance loans.

All disaster assistance applicants who receive an SBA loan application packet must fill it out and return it, no matter what you believe your financial status to be. Returning the packet is the only way you can continue to be considered for further disaster assistance programs. Loans from the SBA must be repaid.

You can receive face-to-face help in filling out the SBA loan application at any Disaster Recovery Center or SBA Loan Assistance Center. For the nearest location, call the SBA Helpline at 1 (800) 659-2955. (Learn more at 11 Common Misconceptions about Disaster Aid.)

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

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.

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.

USDA – Disaster Assistance Programs

The Farm Service Agency, through its USDA – Disaster Assistance Programsprovides assistance for farms who have experienced natural disaster losses, resulting from drought, flood, fire, freeze, tornadoes, pest infestation, and other calamities.