FEMA Assistance for Disaster Survivors

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

Page last updated: 03/06/2023


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.

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.

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.

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.