How FEMA Disaster Assistance Works
When disaster strikes, the most important and immediate concern is rescue. For the hours and days following a tragic event, emergency responders race against the clock and the odds to preserve and protect human life.
As days pass, rescue becomes response, which leads to rebuilding -- assisting those who have been displaced or whose homes have been damaged -- with considerable involvement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Here is an overview on the types of assistance available through FEMA:
The Disaster Declaration
In 1988, the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act established a process to allow states and local governments to request assistance from the federal government when they determine that a disaster is beyond the response capabilities of the state or local government. A governor must request a disaster declaration from the President, which makes federal assistance available and assigns a disaster number to the event. (See recent disaster declarations.)
Types of Assistance
Three types of federal assistance are available:
- Individual assiistance for homeowners and renters - grants through FEMA and low-interest loans through the Small Business Administration.
- Public assistance - reimbursement to public and nonprofit organizations for emergency services and damaged public facilities or infrastructure.
- Hazard Mitigation - funding to prevent or lessen the effect of future disasters
Some housing assistance is available (must apply for SBA loan assistance first)
- Temporary housing vouchers - to help people find temporary safe housing
- Repair assistance - grants to get home safe, sanitary, functional
- Replacement (rare grant to help replace damaged home)
- Permanent or semi-permanent construction (very unusual - only in insular areas or remote locations specified by FEMA/EPR where no other type of housing is possible.)
**The first step for individual assistance is to fill out an Electronic Loan Application (ELA).
- Other Needs Assistance (ONA) - grants for necessary and serious needs caused by the disaster, including medical, dental, funeral, personal property, transportation, moving and storage. (Usually requires that homeowner applies for SBA loan first.)
FEMA provides partial reimbursement (usually 75%) to public and nonprofit entities to cover
- Debris removal costs related to the disaster
- Emergency protective measures
- Repairing roads and bridges
- Putting water systems and utilities back in order
- Repairing buildings and equipment
- Repairing utilities
- Restoring damaged parks and recreational facilities.
The 25% match can come from state, local, and in-kind contributions (which is why cities and states document donations and volunteer efforts.)
An amount equivalent to 7.5% of each disaster's estimated total cost available for acquisition and demolition, relocation, elevation, or floodproofing of flood damaged or floodprone properties.
For more information, see: A Guide to The Disaster Declaration Process