Q: I live in a coastal area that can see massive amounts of damage from storms and flooding each summer and early fall. I’d love to get government assistance to help cover some of the repair costs, but I don’t know if I qualify for funding. How do I apply for FEMA?
A: With the summer storm season at its peak, homes across the country are standing up to hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding and more. Repairing the damages caused by these natural disasters can be expensive, but you don’t necessarily have to go it alone. The FEMA application, approval and fund-granting process may not be timely, but it’s not as complicated as you might think. Plus, the funds you may qualify for will be well worth the wait.
To help you out, we’ve broken down the process and answered some frequently asked questions about FEMA. Read on for all you need to know about federal disaster aid.
How can FEMA help me through a disaster?
FEMA assistance is intended to help make your damaged home safe, sanitary and secure for the residents who live there. Consequently, FEMA will not provide funding for any cosmetic repairs or for any non-essential living spaces, such as a family room, guest bedroom or rec room. The repair fund estimates are based on average material and labor costs.
You can apply for FEMA assistance with temporary housing costs, home repairs and other disaster-related expenses including medical bills, free meals or temporary SNAP benefits, funeral costs and assistance with reconnecting utilities and paying energy bills.
If you’re a small business owner and your business has sustained damage in the disaster, you may also want to apply for a long-term disaster loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration. If you can’t afford to repay this loan, you may be eligible for additional FEMA assistance, but you’ll only be approved after you’ve applied for the loan.
How do I apply for FEMA?
Before you get started on your FEMA application, you’ll need to file a claim with your homeowner’s insurance provider, as well as with any other relevant insurance policies you might have, such as flood insurance. You are required by law to file a claim even if you know the damage will not be covered by your policy. It’s important to note that FEMA is never intended to take the place of insurance or to restore damaged property to its prior condition. It is simply meant to help victims of natural disasters meet some critical expenses which are not covered elsewhere.
Once you’ve filed your insurance claim, you can register for FEMA online at DisasterAssistance.gov, through the FEMA mobile app, or by calling 800-621-3362.
When you register for FEMA, you’ll need to provide the following information:
- Social Security number
- Address of the location where damage occurred
- Current address and phone number
- Insurance information
- Annual household income
- Destination Credit Union‘s routing number and your checking or savings account number(s)
- A description of all damages and losses to your property caused by the disaster
After you’ve completed your application, you will receive a FEMA claim number. Be sure to store this number in a safe place, as you will need it when you check your eligibility and your claim status.
What happens next?
As soon as 24 hours have passed since you’ve applied for assistance, you can check your application status on the FEMA website, using your claim number.
Within 10 days, you’ll be contacted by a FEMA-contracted housing inspector to schedule an appointment to assess the extent of damage. You’ll need to have an adult present for the inspection.. You’ll also have to show proof of household ownership, such as a deed or a title, as well as copies of your homeowner’s insurance policy. You don’t need to hold off on cleaning up the disaster, so long as you’ve snapped some pictures of what your house looked like before you started putting it back together. Show these photos to the inspector when they show up at your door.
How do I know if I qualify for assistance?
After the inspection is complete, it can take up to 10 days for your claim to be approved or denied. You can check your eligibility through any of these media:
- Using the address lookup feature on DisasterAssistance.gov or through the FEMA mobile app
- Visiting FEMA’s Individual Disaster Assistance page
- Calling FEMA at 1-800-621-3362 (TTY:1-800-462-7585)
If your claim is approved and you qualify for a FEMA grant, you will receive the funding through a check or via direct deposit to your [credit_union] account. Be sure to only use the grant funds for eligible expenses. If you misuse the money, you may have to refund FEMA in the full amount and you may not be eligible for financial aid in the future. Hold onto your FEMA receipts for three years after a grant in case of an audit.
Your FEMA funds are tax-free and do not count as income.
If your claim was denied, you can appeal FEMA’s decision in writing. Be sure to include all relevant information, documents and photographs, as well as your original FEMA claim number.
Here’s wishing you a safe storm season from all of us here at Destinations Credit Union!
Your Turn: Have you ever received FEMA funding? Tell us about it in the comments.