FEMA Assistance for Disaster Survivors

Learn how you can get money from FEMA to help you recover after a disaster.

Overview

One way the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) helps disaster survivors is by giving them money they can use to assist them with basic needs, such as housing. To get this support, you have to comply with the requirements of FEMA’s application process. You also should know how to file an appeal if FEMA rejects your application.

Legal aid offices provide low-income Americans with free legal assistance and may be able to help them file FEMA applications and appeal FEMA decisions.

  • Find Legal Aid in your Area

    If you are looking for help with a civil legal problem, use this tool to enter an address or city to find an LSC-funded legal aid organization near you.

  • How a Disaster Gets Declared

    This page provides procedural information regarding the Stafford Act declaration process and is intended for emergency managers, elected officials, media, and stakeholders interested in the formal declaration process.

Disaster survivors also can get free assistance with their applications at the Disaster Recovery Centers that FEMA opens in the area after the federal government declares a disaster.

  • Disaster Recovery Centers

    FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) are accessible facilities and mobile offices you can visit to learn more about FEMA and other disaster assistance programs. You may also visit to ask questions about your case. DRCs are set up in convenient areas after a disaster to make them easier to find.

    A DRC may be able to help you:

    • Apply for assistance. You may also Apply for FEMA Assistance online or Apply/Check your status by phone 1-800-621-3362.
    • Learn more about disaster assistance programs.
    • Learn the status of your FEMA application.
    • Understand any letters you get from FEMA.
    • Find housing and rental assistance information.
    • Get answers to questions or resolve problems.
    • Get referrals to agencies that may offer other assistance.
    • Learn about Small Business Administration (SBA) programs.

     

    To find a Disaster Recovery Center near you, use the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s DRC locator or text “DRC” and your zip code to 43362 (4FEMA) to locate a Disaster Recovery Center in your area.

Types of FEMA Assistance

FEMA assistance becomes available when the President of the United States issues a major disaster declaration for an area, like a county. Assistance money is provided as a grant, which means you do not have to pay it back. However, you can spend the money only on the things FEMA allows it to be used for.

FEMA provides two types of financial assistance under its Individuals and Households Program:

  • Housing Assistance (HA), which includes money for temporary housing, rent, or repairs.
  • Other Needs Assistance (ONA), which includes money for replacing things you own that were damaged in the disaster. You also may be able to use ONA for expenses such as child care, moving and storage, medical and dental care, funerals, and burials.

Limits on FEMA Assistance

  • Do not expect FEMA assistance to cover all of your disaster recovery costs. It is meant to help survivors meet their essential needs only.
  • To receive the aid, you or someone in your home must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, permanent resident, or other qualified immigrant with legal status.
  • FEMA is not a substitute for insurance. If you have insurance, file a claim. You may still be eligible for FEMA aid, however, if the insurance does not cover all of your costs. You should apply for FEMA assistance at the same time as you submit your insurance claim.

Applying for FEMA Aid

The application process has many steps, but here are some critical points:

  • Unless FEMA has announced an extension, you must apply for FEMA assistance within 60 days of the disaster declaration. You should apply even if you aren’t sure you’ll need the aid.
  • To be eligible for some types of Other Needs Assistance, you must first apply and be ruled ineligible for a U.S. Small Business Administration disaster loan. (These loans are available for homeowners and renters as well as businesses.) This restriction does not apply to assistance for medical, dental, or funeral costs.

  • LADRC Quick Guide: FEMA Application and Appeals

    This document provides a quick overview of the FEMA application and appeals process. It can serve as a reference for attorneys or as a handout for the general public.

  • Figuring Out FEMA Pamphlet

    Experiencing a natural disaster is a difficult and traumatic experience. In addition to the emotional process of recovery, impacted individuals need to also navigate complex legal processes to repair their homes and replace their belongings.

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides support after natural disasters but it can be difficult to navigate the deadlines for different FEMA programs and fulfill all the application requirements in order to successfully receive assistance. As individuals and families begin the recovery process, it’s important they know where to get support and which resources they are eligible to receive.

    CUP collaborated with Pro Bono Net and designer Carmen Rosa Lopez to create Figuring Out FEMA, a pocket-sized guide that breaks down the process of enrolling in FEMA’s Individual Assistance program. It also explains how to appeal FEMA’s decision if you are denied aid or need more assistance and explains your rights when interacting with FEMA.

    Click on the link to download the pamphlet for free or to order printed copies.

  • FEMA Fact Sheet: Remote Inspections

    Due to the COVID-19 nationwide emergency declared by President Trump and the need to protect the safety and health of all Americans; FEMA will conduct remote home inspections for disaster survivors until further notice.

    This fact sheet provides information about that process. It includes links to PDF and plain text versions.

Other Important Tips

  • Quickly gather documents that can be critical for your application, like ID cards, proof of home ownership, or a lease. If any of those documents were lost or destroyed, replace them.
  • Take photos of the damage to your home and the things you own and get repair estimates.
  • Save any documentation of your communications with FEMA. These can be especially important if you need to file an appeal.
  • If you receive FEMA funds, make sure to use them for their intended purpose. Save your receipts for seven years in case FEMA asks for proof of your spending.

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