Do I Qualify for Disaster Relief Help?

Disasters happen every day.  We go through life making plans, but they could easily be derailed by fires, flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes, or other natural disaster situations beyond our control.  When this happens, you could find yourself suffering the stress and uncertainty of evacuation and returning to a home that is damaged or even demolished.  You could lose everything in the blink of an eye.

The good news is you’re not alone.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, is tasked with helping Americans like you recover from tragedy when disaster strikes.  However, if you’ve been displaced, you may not know if your region has been deemed a disaster area.  You might not know if you qualify for FEMA assistance.  This can be a confusing and frustrating experience, on top of the trauma you’ve already suffered.  How can you find out if you qualify for aid?

Apply for Assistance

When you contact FEMA or affiliated disaster assistance partners in your local area, you can get help with both immediate and long-term needs.  For immediate help in the wake of a disaster, you’ll want to call 9-1-1 for emergency assistance if you are trapped or you need immediate medical help, for example.  Often, local branches of the Red Cross and Salvation Army mobilize to provide food, shelter, and other necessities until FEMA resources arrive.

Once you and your family are safe, you can apply for additional assistance from FEMA, primarily housing assistance if you have lost your home.  You may also be eligible for a variety of expenses impacted by disaster, including essential household items, moving and storage, child care, medical and dental, and funeral and burial costs associated with the disaster.  If you are unable to get the information you need from FEMA professionals at your location, you can contact the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362.  You can even apply over the phone.

Schedule a Home Inspection

Once you have completed and submitted a form for FEMA assistance, a FEMA professional will contact you within 10 days to schedule a home inspection.  If you have not yet submitted a claim to your home insurance provider, you will need to do so as soon as possible – FEMA will not schedule a home inspection until you have submitted your insurance claim to cover applicable damages.

Keep in mind that catastrophic disasters may affect many homes in your area and stretch FEMA resources thin.  Although you are anxious to receive needed relief services, it could take some time for your visit to be scheduled, so try to be patient and work with your insurance provider in the meantime.

What to Expect Following Inspection

After FEMA inspectors examine and assess your property, they will make a determination about whether or not you qualify for assistance.  Even if your insurance will cover some of all of the damages to your home, you may still qualify for assistance that covers essential household items and other expenses associated with disaster losses.

Whether you qualify for FEMA assistance or not, you will receive a letter to inform you of the decision.  If you are eligible, the letter will contain a check (unless you have signed up for direct deposit into your checking or savings account), as well as details about how the money is to be spent.

If you are not eligible for assistance, you’ll receive a letter explaining why, along with instructions should you decide to appeal the decision.  Suffering through a disaster situation that damages or demolishes your home is not easy, but FEMA can help.  You simply have to apply for needed assistance to find out if you’re eligible, and how much you can receive.