Applying for FEMA Federal Disaster Assistance

A phone call to FEMA is all it takes to register for help

FEMA Superstorm Sandy
New York and NJ residents struggle to recover one week after Superstorm Sandy, 2012. Allison Joyce / Getty Images

In 2003 alone, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) paid out nearly $2 billion in recovery assistance to victims of 56 declared natural disasters. If you become a victim of a declared natural disaster, do not hesitate to apply to FEMA for disaster assistance. It's a simple process, but there are some tips you need to keep in mind.

Applying for Federal Disaster Assistance

As soon as possible, register for assistance by calling FEMA’s toll-free number. When you call, a FEMA representative will explain the types of assistance available to you. You can also apply for help online.

Shortly after a disaster, FEMA will set up mobile Disaster Recovery Centers in the stricken area. You can also apply for assistance by contacting the personnel there.

Important Tips to Remember

  • Be sure to give FEMA a phone number at which you can always be reached. They will need to contact you.
  • Make sure you can be present when FEMA comes to inspect your damage. Be sure your street address is easily visible and allow enough time for the inspection. There is no fee for the inspection. Inspectors will set up an appointment to visit your property within a few days of application. Inspectors are contractors; they are not FEMA employees, but they will have a FEMA ID.
  • If you move or change the location of your business after applying for federal/state assistance, call the FEMA toll free number to update your phone number and address.
  • Even if you have homeowners insurance, call FEMA and apply for assistance. This will establish your eligibility for help if, after you settle with your insurance company, further damage is discovered. Individuals who have insurance may still qualify for certain assistance.
  • Renters should not hesitate to apply for help. Renters may be eligible for help for essential items not covered by insurance. Also, both renters and homeowners forced from their homes may receive temporary housing assistance.
  • If you receive a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan application, complete and return it even if you may not be able to afford a loan; individuals who are not qualified for a low-interest loan may be eligible for a government grant.
  • To check the status of your application, or to amend it -- for example, to report newly-discovered damage -- select the helpline option at FEMA’s toll-free number.

Once FEMA has inspected your damage and determined that you are eligible for assistance, you will receive a housing assistance check within 7-10 days.

Also, be sure the check out the FEMA National Flood Insurance program. Just because you do not live close to rivers, lakes or oceans, does not mean you will never suffer flood damage. That's just one of the common myths about flood insurance