The Exploring Eligibility blog series previously covered the general availability of federal grants for home repairs, among other topics. This follow-up post focuses on grants and other forms of financial assistance associated with federally-declared disaster zones.
Hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, forest fires and other natural disasters can leave deep scars on the communities they impact. Homes and property can be damaged or destroyed. Jobs and businesses can be lost. Lives can be upended.
When a natural disaster strikes and a region is declared a federal disaster zone, the U.S. government can authorize several forms of assistance designed to help impacted communities recover and rebuild. The direct beneficiaries of federal disaster assistance can include both state governments and individual members of an impacted community.
In the case of Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in Texas on August 26, the federal government is still in the process of assessing the widespread damage caused by flooding. While specific Harvey-related assistance programs have yet to be announced, DisasterAssistance.gov has set up a tool for community leaders to search for emergency shelter and housing (among other resources) as well as a page through which citizens can file a claim for the National Flood Insurance Program. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website also has a resource page for flood victims.
As FEMA Administrator Brock Long told reporters this week, “Texas is about to undergo one of the largest recovery-housing missions that the nation has ever seen.”
Q: “How can individuals impacted by a natural disaster determine their eligibility for federal disaster assistance?”
To be eligible for federal disaster assistance, one must reside within a region that has been declared a “disaster zone” by the federal government.
But the grants or other forms of financial assistance that are available to you will vary depending on the disaster and its severity. Note, also, that the federal government will not provide financial assistance for damages and impacts that are covered by insurance.
If you think you might qualify for federal disaster assistance, you should go to DisasterAssistance.gov and enter your complete home address to see if your area has been declared for Individual Assistance. Upon entering your address, you will be directed to appropriate next steps if you qualify.
For the most up-to-date policies on disaster assistance for individual households, see FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program Unified Guidance (IHPUG), “a comprehensive reference … for FEMA employees, emergency management partners, political leadership, and the public.”
Q: “I live in a federally-declared disaster zone and my home has been severely damaged. What might FEMA’s disaster assistance cover?”
FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program can cover housing needs, including
- Temporary Housing: “Financial assistance may be available to homeowners or renters to rent a temporary place to live. If no rental properties are available, a government housing unit may be provided, but only as a last resort.”
- Lodging Expenses Reimbursement: “Reimbursement of hotel expenses for homeowners or renters may be available for short periods of time due to inaccessibility or utility outage if not covered by insurance or any other program.”
- Repair: “Financial assistance may be available to homeowners to repair disaster-caused damage to their primary residence that is not covered by insurance. The goal is to make the damaged home safe, sanitary, or fit to occupy.”
- Replacement: “Financial assistance may be available to homeowners to replace their home destroyed in the disaster that is not covered by insurance. The goal is to help the homeowner with the cost of replacing their destroyed home.”
- Permanent or Semi-Permanent Housing Construction: “Direct assistance or money for the construction of a home. This type of help occurs only in insular areas or other locations specified by FEMA, where no other type of housing assistance is possible.”
Q: “My business is located in a federally-declared disaster zone. Can I receive disaster assistance?”
Yes, but not in the form of a grant. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) provides low-interest disaster loans “to businesses of all sizes, private non-profit organizations, homeowners, and renters.” These SBA disaster loans “can be used to repair or replace the following items damaged or destroyed in a declared disaster: real estate, personal property, machinery and equipment, and inventory and business assets.”
To receive a disaster loan, your business must be in an SBA-declared disaster area.
Q: “Are there other forms of disaster assistance besides home property repair grants and business loans?”
Yes. In the past, other forms of disaster assistance have included disaster-related tax relief from the Internal Revenue Service, disaster unemployment assistance from the Department of Labor, and no-down payment mortgages for disaster survivors from the Federal Housing Administration (in partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development).
Visit USA.gov’s infopage “Financial Assistance After a Disaster” to learn more about each of the above forms of disaster assistance.