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Frequently Asked Questions about Disaster Aid

Damage at LucerneAfter a disaster, people impacted may become eligible for Federal and state help. The following are some commonly asked questions and answers:

Q: I previously applied for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) when there was a disaster here. Do I need to apply again?
A: Yes. Whether or not you have applied for assistance with a previous disaster, you must apply again. Each disaster is considered a separate incident when applying for aid.

Q: Will the FEMA assistance I receive come out of my Social Security check?
A: No. Assistance funds will not reduce or affect a recipient's monthly Social Security or Disability benefit, or affect any other benefit payment he or she receives.

Q: If I received help from the American Red Cross, can I still receive help from FEMA?
A: Yes. Federal and state disaster assistance is not affected by programs offering emergency food, clothing, shelter, or other help after a disaster. The American Red Cross, churches and religious organizations, and voluntary agencies work side by side with FEMA to help those impacted to recover.

Q: If I get help from these organizations, am I automatically registered with FEMA?
A: No. Registering with the American Red Cross or any faith-based organization or voluntary agency is not the same as registering with FEMA. Regardless of other help received, disaster survivors in affected counties need to register with FEMA.

Q: Is there enough money for everyone? Should I tell my neighbor to register with FEMA?
A: Yes. There are sufficient disaster funds to assist every eligible applicant. Needs are assessed individually.

Q: Does FEMA charge for a home inspection?
A: No. FEMA and the U. S. Small Business Administration (SBA) never charge for an inspection.

Q: I don't think I had much damage. Should I still apply to FEMA?
A: Yes. Sometimes damage related to a disaster is not immediately identifiable. You will only be eligible for disaster assistance later if you register with FEMA now.

Q: Do I have to wait for an insurance adjustor or inspector to visit before cleaning up?
A: Yes. You should confirm that clean-up is ok with your insurance provider. Then begin cleaning your home or business as soon as possible to prevent further damage. Remember to take photos and keep records of your clean-up efforts and expenses.

Q: I already cleaned up and made repairs to my property. Am I still eligible to register with FEMA?
A: Yes. You may be eligible for reimbursement of your clean-up and repair expenses. Keep your receipts for disaster-related repairs and show them to the inspector. Ideally, you should take pictures before any repairs are made.

Q: Do I have to be low-income to qualify for disaster aid? I think I make too much money.
A: No. Federal and state disaster assistance programs are available to all who suffered damages. Aid is damage-based, not income-based. The kinds of help provided depend on an applicant's circumstances and unmet needs.

Q: Are disaster relief payments taxable?
A: No. Qualified disaster relief payments are not taxable.

Q: If I apply for disaster assistance will my credit rating go down?
A: It shouldn't. Disaster assistance is for losses not covered by insurance. It is meant to help people with critical expenses not covered in other ways. But always monitor your credit report and dispute any negative impact related to the disaster.

Q: Does my bank have to turn me down for a loan before I can apply for a Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loan?
A: No. The SBA offers low-interest disaster loans to homeowners, renters, businesses of any size, and private nonprofits. SBA sets loan amounts and terms based on each applicant's financial condition. Residents, businesses and private non-profits in the declared counties may apply for SBA low-interest loans to cover their uncompensated real and personal property losses. Also, small businesses and most private nonprofits, whether or not they had property damage, may be eligible for economic injury disaster loans to help meet their working capital needs caused by the disaster. Those not approved for an SBA loan may still be eligible for other types of assistance; however, it is generally necessary to go through the SBA loan application process first.

Q: Do I have to own a business to apply for a loan from the SBA?
A: No. When a federal disaster is declared, the SBA becomes the primary source of financial assistance to disaster survivors. Homeowners, renters, businesses and non-profits may qualify for SBA low-interest loans to cover uninsured and under-insured physical and personal property losses. Small businesses may also be eligible for working capital loans. Note: Many times, before you can get any aid, you need to apply to SBA and be denied before you can get other assistance.

Q: If I rent my home or apartment, can I get help to replace my damaged personal property, including my car?
A: Yes. After a disaster, renters in declared counties may qualify for disaster assistance. SBA low-interest loans, and grants from sources other than the SBA, are available to replace disaster-damaged personal property, including automobiles. Claims for vehicle damage should first be submitted to the insurance company.

Q: If I'm self-employed or now out of work because of a disaster, can I qualify for disaster unemployment benefits?
A: Possibly. Disaster Unemployment Assistance, funded by FEMA, provides weekly benefit payments to those who are out of work due to a disaster, and who are not covered by regular unemployment assistance. This program includes self-employed persons and others not normally covered under regular unemployment insurance programs. Call your local office for more information.

Q: How do I register with FEMA?
A: FEMA offers several ways for a disaster survivor to register:

  • Visit fema.gov
  • Call FEMA's toll-free registration helpline at 800-621-FEMA (3362)
  • Call FEMA's general operator at 202-646-2500
  • NOTE: Those with a speech disability or hearing loss who use a TTY can call 1-800-462-7585

FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.