How to get federal disaster assistance

earthquake disaster haiti
  • You can only get help if you are in an area declared a major disaster.
  • The amount of assistance you'll get depends on how much damage the state reported.
  • FEMA cannot help pay for anything that insurance will cover.

Insurance » How To Get Federal Disaster Assistance

How do you file for federal aid when a hurricane, earthquake or other natural disaster strikes?

Here are the steps to follow.

Are you in an official disaster zone?

When local and state resources are overwhelmed by a severe disaster, your state's governor will request that the president issue a Major Disaster Declaration. This is the only declaration that can activate a range of federal assistance programs for individuals and families. Assistance may include temporary housing, low-interest loans and grants, counseling for post-disaster trauma and other services.

FEMA service information to keep handy:
To register for federal disaster assistance:
Phone: (800) 621-3362
Teletypewriter, or TTY: (800) 462-7585
To locate a mobile: Disaster Recovery Center
For housing assistance: FEMA Housing Portal
To appeal a FEMA grant denial, write to:
FEMA - Individuals & Households Program
National Processing Service Center
P.O. Box 10055
Hyattsville, MD 20782-7055
Or send fax to: (800) 827-8112
Attention: FEMA -- Individuals & Households Program

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, doesn't activate all of its assistance programs in every natural disaster. It largely depends on the nature of damages reported by your state.

To qualify for federal disaster assistance, your losses must have occurred in an area covered by a Major Disaster Declaration. If you have online access, you can quickly determine this at FEMA's Federal Disaster Declarations Web page.

A number of criteria are used in the determination of a major disaster area, including the amount and type of damage, the imminent threats to public health and safety, and level of insurance coverage in place for homeowners and public facilities, according to

Make an insurance claim

After determining whether you are in a major disaster area, you should file an insurance claim with your home and/or auto insurance company for any damages incurred. Failure to file an insurance claim may affect your eligibility for federal assistance, because by law, FEMA cannot provide money for losses that are covered by insurance.

Once you file your claim, FEMA may be able to provide some assistance in the following circumstances.

  • Delayed insurance settlement: If your settlement is delayed longer than 30 days, FEMA may loan you some money. It will expect you to repay the loan when your settlement arrives. How to file: Write FEMA with a full explanation and insurance claim number, the date of the claim and documentation.
  • Your insurance settlement falls short: If the maximum payment from your settlement doesn't cover your disaster-related needs, FEMA may help make up the difference. How to file: Write FEMA with a full explanation and complete insurance documentation.
  • Additional Living Expenses exhausted: If you've exhausted your insurance company's maximum loss-of-use settlement, FEMA may be able to help with your disaster-related temporary housing needs. Write them with explanation and documentation.

Types of federal disaster assistance: housing and nonhousing

There are two types of direct federal disaster assistance available: housing needs and nonhousing needs:

Housing assistance. This includes temporary housing and money to help repair or replace your primary residence. To qualify for housing needs assistance, you or someone living with you must be a U.S. citizen, noncitizen national or qualified alien; your home must be your permanent residence; and you must have been living in the home when the disaster hit but not currently able to due to damage from the disaster.

Nonhousing needs. These include medical, dental and funeral costs; clothing and household items; tools; home fuel; disaster-related moving and storage; and replacement of a disaster-damaged vehicle. In order to qualify for these, you or someone living with you must be a U.S. citizen, noncitizen national or qualified alien; you must have serious disaster-related needs and expenses; and you must have accepted all assistance for which you are eligible from insurance proceeds and Small Business Administration, or SBA, disaster loans.

The SBA provides federally subsidized disaster loans to repair or replace homes or personal property of qualified homeowners and businesses. SBA loans comprise the lion's share of federal disaster assistance.


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