Often occurring with little to no warning, disasters leave you feeling overwhelmed and helpless. While dealing with life and limb during a disaster, financial assistance may not be your first thought. Soon, though, financial fears intensify the initial loss, confusion, and damages you are dealing with. After a disaster financial assistance is the only hope many survivors have.
There are many things that you need to know after a disaster. Financial assistance, and where to find it is one of them. Whether you are trying to file FEMA paperwork, or simply trying to discover your options after having been in the path of a disaster, we gathered the information you need to find help.
What to do After Being Hit with a Disaster
No matter how well you plan, and no matter how much advance notice you have, when a disaster hits, it’s devastating. People lose their valuables, their homes and sometimes even their lives. Even a small tornado can cost a small business owner their livelihood. A flood can leave a family without a home, or even basic necessities.
Fortunately, for most disasters, you aren’t alone. There are resources available for disaster victims that can help them get back on their feet.
Before returning to examine the damage, stay tuned to your radio to make sure it’s safe to go back home. In many cases, there are lingering after-effects, such as floods, earthquake aftershocks, and in the case of fire, burning embers.
Despite the fact that the immediate danger may have passed, your home might still be a minefield of hazards. Even if your home doesn’t show significant damage, dangers could be lurking. You could have loose nails, loose debris and damage to your home’s (or your business’s) structure. Tread carefully and keep your children and pets out until you know it’s safe.
Stay away from loose wires and falling debris. Back away if something doesn’t look stable. If you smell gas, evacuate immediately and call the gas company. Stay away from electrical wires and anything you may have left plugged in if the area is flooded.
Assess the damage
Once you’re safely back in your home, it’s time to assess the damage. Inventory all damaged and missing items. Hopefully, your receipts were with your emergency supplies, or at least a copy on a flash drive.
You should immediately contact your insurance company and your mortgage company. Try to get an idea of what your insurance company will and will not cover.
What is the Federal Emergency Management Agency?
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is a government agency under the Department of Homeland Security. FEMA’s mission statement is simple. They help “people before, during, and after disasters.”
While the federal government has nearly always been there to help victims of both natural and manmade disasters (such as acts of war, like 9/11), FEMA was established in 1979 in an effort to centralize services. FEMA coordinates with local and state governments to help prepare for disasters, which includes helping stabilize infrastructure and buildings.
During a disaster, they help provide food, water, clothing, shelter and medical assistance. They can also provide grants to disaster victims.
What kind of disaster relief assistance does FEMA offer states and localities?
Before disasters ever hit, FEMA coordinates with other government agencies and volunteer agencies to help them prepare for disasters. Training can be in the form of “tabletop discussions” to drills.
They also either partially or fully fund emergency management programs in all 50 states.
After a disaster, FEMA helps provide grants and loans to devastated areas. The funds can rebuild homes, repair roads and bridges, clear debris, rebuild businesses and government facilities, and restore utilities, water, sewer, and other essential services.
Where to Get Disaster Financial Assistance
There are several organizations that offer disaster financial assistance, both governmental and non-governmental. The two best known are the FEMA, which is governmental, and the Red Cross, which is non-governmental. Both can help with food and shelter. FEMA offers financial assistance to cover what your insurance doesn’t.
If a FEMA grant doesn’t cover all your needs, you may qualify for a low-interest loan from the Small Business Administration. There are several other non-governmental charities that help with disasters. Here is a list from FEMA.
How to apply for individual disaster assistance
Fortunately, there are several places to find individual and small business disaster financial assistance. Some needs to be repaid and some doesn’t. Go to:
DisasterAssistance.gov — If your area has been declared a disaster area by the President of the United States, you may qualify for FEMA assistance. This is a grant that you don’t have to pay back. You can apply online or you can apply locally in a number of designated disaster recovery centers. You can also call 1-800-621-3362 (TTY: 1-800-462-7585) or visit FEMA.gov. FEMA may be able to help you with temporary housing as well.
Even the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is there to help in times of disaster. They have any number of tax relief packages for people and businesses struggling with disaster cleanup.
For immediate need, contact the Red Cross for help with temporary shelter, food, and clean water. Unlike with FEMA, the Red Cross can help with individual disasters, such as house fires.
How to apply for disaster unemployment assistance
If a disaster has wiped out your place of work, or if you aren’t able to work because of a disaster, you may qualify for disaster unemployment assistance. To qualify you must have lost your job (either permanently or temporarily) as a direct result of a natural disaster, as declared by the President. One of the following must apply:
- You no longer have a job
- Your place of work is unreachable
- Damage makes work impossible
- You are seeking work because the head of the household died in the disaster
- The disaster made you physically unable to work
If one of the above applies to you, apply through your state unemployment office. If you evacuate your home state because of the disaster, contact your previous state’s unemployment office. You must file within 30 days of the announcement of availability.
For further assistance, call 1-877-872-5627. If you are hearing impaired, call the TTY number at 1-877-889-5627. You can also visit the Disaster Unemployment Assistance website.
Understanding the bureaucracy of government disaster financial assistance
While FEMA is by far the largest governmental disaster assistance organization, they aren’t the only one. They also work with the Individuals and Households Program (IHP), Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA), the Small Business Administration (SBA), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
- Housing assistance — FEMA offers help with rent for people who are displaced by a disaster
- Rental and mortgage assistance — If the disaster causes financial hardship to the point where a person might be at risk of losing their home, FEMA will step in and help
- Home repairs — FEMA will help restore a home to habitability. They will also help replace essential items
- Critical needs — FEMA can help pick up the tab for food, medications, medical equipment, personal hygiene items, baby formula and diapers, and other critical needs
The Small Business Administration offers low-interest loans to business owners, homeowners, and renters to help repair damages not covered by insurance.
For those not covered by the SBA, the Individuals and Households Program can provide disaster financial assistance grants for repairs, household assistance, job essentials (including transportation), medical care, dental care, childcare, funeral costs and temporary housing reimbursement. Unlike FEMA and the SBA, the IHP is administered by state agencies.
The Disaster Unemployment Agency works in tandem with state unemployment agencies to provide unemployment assistance for those who are out of work due to a disaster.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a branch of the Department of Agriculture. They step in to help provide food to disaster victims. The food is administered on a state or local level.
There are other federal, state, and local agencies that step in as well, but the good news is, that almost all money is funneled through FEMA, which minimizes the bureaucracy for people who are already suffering and in need of disaster financial assistance.
Only citizens and “qualified” immigrants are eligible for long-term assistance, however, if at least one member of the household is “qualified,” the household may be eligible.
FEMA does not currently coordinate with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, so victims do not need to worry about being deported. All immigrants, regardless of status, can receive short-term relief, such as food and other non-cash items.
Some Final Thoughts
Every year, millions of Americans suffer through storms, fires, earthquakes, floods and volcanoes. In some cases, even extreme weather can qualify as a natural disaster. No one wants to live through a disaster whether natural or manmade. Fortunately, our government is able to provide disaster financial assistance to those in need. If you are affected by a national disaster, don’t hesitate to ask for help.
Image: Public Domain, by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, via Wikimedia