Disaster Financial Assistance

The Atlantic Ocean Hurricane season has officially started. One of the concerns often raised with hurricanes is about emergency financial assistance available after a hurricane or other disaster. One of the largest providers of emergency financial aid is the US Government. When people think of the Federal government they often think of FEMA. Besides FEMA, there is also the Small Business Administration (SBA) and other Federal Departments and Agencies. In fact, the SBA is the primary source of Federal funds for long-term recovery assistance. FEMA funding is meant to help with critical expenses that cannot be covered in other ways. Following is a summary of some of the aid available from FEMA and the SBA. For the specific rules of each program, check with the appropriate agency.

Emergency Financial assistance from the Federal Government is generally broken down into two main categories; low cost loans that need to be repaid and outright grants. This is further broken down into Individual Assistance (IA) and Public Assistance (PA). Individual Assistance is for families and individuals affected by a disaster, while Public Assistance is for State and local government entities as well as not-for-profit organizations serving a public need. Whether the assistance applicant is an individual or public organization, the one rule that must be remembered is documentation. Without receipts, photographs, videos, timesheets, etc. it will be very difficult to near impossible to get any type of financial recovery. Emergency management is like law enforcement; if it is not written down, it never happened.

The process of receiving any Federal aid begins after a disaster impacts an area. After an event strikes the area a Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA) is conducted. The amount of damage is forwarded to the Governor of the State. If the amount of damage reaches the threshold, a request for Federal assistance is made to the FEMA Regional Office and then to Washington, DC for FEMA HQ approval. If FEMA HQ approves the request it is sent to the White House for a Presidential Declaration. If the Declaration is approved Federal assistance can be released for the affected regions. This assistance can be in the form of material assistance for emergency response, recovery supplies and monetary assistance.

Once the declaration is made, those affected by the disaster need to register with FEMA either by phone, 800-621-FEMA (3362) or at one of the Disaster Assistance Centers (DAC) that FEMA establishes in the disaster areas. FEMA will require basic information such as name, address of damaged property, social security number and private insurance information. Once registered the applicant can then see if they qualify for any type of assistance. Some of the basic guidelines for receiving any Federal aid are:

  • Private insurance is used first to cover losses
  • Cannot receive Federal aid from more than one agency for the same claim
  • Damage must be a direct result of the declared event in the declared area
  • Applicant must have been the owner of the property at time of event
  • Damage must be at least $50

FEMA assistance for individuals can be both for housing and non-housing expenses. Some of the housing assistance is:

  • Temporary Housing, a place to stay for a limited time
  • Repairs, to make your home safe, functional and sanitary
  • Replacement, to replace a destroyed home, current cap set by Congress is $28, 200 maximum

Some of the assistance for non-housing can be for;

  • Moving and storage
  • Damage to vehicles
  • Clean-up costs, such as dehumidifiers, wet vacs, etc.
  • Heating fuels costs, not always covered, disaster-based and weather conditions related
  • Clothing and household items
  • Medical costs
  • Funeral costs

Remember, all claims for assistance must be directly related to the declared disaster and cannot be duplicated by other funds received by private insurance, non-government organizations or other government assistance.

FEMA Public Assistance is broken down into 7 categories:

  • A -- Debris Removal
  • B -- Emergency Protective Measures
  • C -- Roads and Bridges
  • D -- Water Control Facilities
  • E -- Building and Equipment
  • F -- Utilities
  • G -- Parks, Recreational Facilities, and other items

FEMA considers debris removal to be the removal and clearance of trees, sand, gravel, building material and wrecked vehicles. To be covered for PA funding it must:

  • Eliminate immediate threat to lives and public safety
  • Remove threats of extensive damage to public or private property
  • Ensure the economic recovery of the disaster community
  • Mitigate the risk to life and property

Not all debris removal is covered; while funding is approved to clear streets for emergency vehicles, the overall clean up of downed trees is not. Another one is debris removal from private property. It is not covered, but if it is placed at the curb, it is. This is where accurate documentation is very important when it comes to filing a claim.

Emergency Protective Measures taken before and after the storm to reduce injuries and prevent damage to public and private property. Some of them include:

  • Police, Fire and EMS response
  • Emergency Communications
  • Health and safety measures
  • Sandbagging and pumping

Assistance from the Small Business Administration (SBA) is not just for small business. Following a declared disaster, the following types of assistance is available:

  • Home Disaster Loans, low interest loans to homeowners, renters and non-farm business
  • Business Physical Disaster Loans, loans to businesses to repair or replace damaged property, inventories or equipment. Impacted private nonprofit organizations are also eligible
  • Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), small businesses which were not physically damaged but suffered economic loss

In order to be eligible for an SBA loan the applicant needs to show an acceptable credit history, show they can repay the loan and post collateral. The amount of loans varies between individuals and business.

What happens after you file your claim? You can track your application on-line, by phone or in person at the Disaster Recovery Center. Individuals can check on the status of their application in just over 24 hours, PA applications take longer as there is more documentation required. Hopefully you will not have to file a claim anytime soon to see how the process works.