FEMA assistance: What it covers, how to apply

Federal HUD, SBA also provide emergency aid to victims of Hurricane Irma

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Irma wreaked havoc Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, on beachfront property in Vilano Beach, damaging several homes and leaving one resting on its side on the beach. (Photo: Jerry McGovern/WJXT)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - With the Federal Emergency Management Agency offering individual assistance to victims of Hurricane Irma in all northeast Florida counties, individuals seeking help from FEMA for uninsured or underinsured losses have until the end of October to apply.

Some estimates said the total amount of insurance claims from this storm could top $40 billion in the state. For comparison, 1992’s Hurricane Andrew caused $26.5 billion worth of damage, and 2004’s Hurricane Charley cost more than $16 billion to repair.

Survivors are encouraged to register with FEMA as soon as possible. If you preregistered with FEMA, you do not have to apply again. You can call 800-621-3362 (FEMA) 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET, seven days a week. People are also encouraged to register online at DisasterAssistance.gov.

VIEW: Instructions for FEMA registration

Physical locations for applications will be set up for those who do not have internet access. Find the nearest center FEMA Disaster Recovery Center.

FEMA offers grants for home repairs, temporary housing support and other assistance (including medical, dental, child care, funeral and burial, essential household items, storage and vehicle assistance) depending on the extent of damage and circumstances.

FEMA helps people who do not have insurance, or helps fill gaps for what insurance does not cover. Damage inflicted by Hurricane Irma covered by private homeowner's insurance or flood insurance is not eligible for FEMA funding.

What can federal disaster relief be used for:

  • Rental payments for temporary housing for those whose homes are unlivable. Initial assistance may be provided for up to three months for homeowners and at least one month for renters. Assistance may be extended if requested after the initial period based on a review of individual applicant requirements.
  • Grants for home repairs and replacement of essential household items not covered by insurance to make damaged dwellings safe, sanitary and functional.
  • Grants to replace personal property and help meet medical, dental, funeral, transportation and other serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance or other federal, municipality and charitable aid programs. 
  • Unemployment payments up to 26 weeks for workers who temporarily lost jobs because of the disaster and who do not qualify for state benefits, such as self-employed individuals.
  • Low-interest loans to cover residential losses not fully compensated by insurance. Loans available up to $200,000 for primary residence; $40,000 for personal property, including renter losses.  Loans available up to $2 million for business property losses not fully compensated by insurance. (Source: U.S. Small Business Administration)
  • Loans up to $2 million for small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and most private, non-profit organizations of all sizes that have suffered disaster-related cash flow problems and need funds for working capital to recover from the disaster's adverse economic impact.  This loan in combination with a property loss loan cannot exceed a total of $2 million. (Source: U.S. Small Business Administration.)
  • Loans up to $500,000 for farmers, ranchers and aquaculture operators to cover production and property losses, excluding primary residence.  (Source: Farm Service Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture)
  • Other relief programs: Crisis counseling for those traumatized by the disaster; income tax assistance for filing casualty losses; advisory assistance for legal, veterans' benefits and social security matters.

FEMA does not provide assistance for secondary homes and does not directly provide support for businesses impacted by natural disasters. For businesses it partners with the Small Business Administration, which offers low-interest loans for businesses that have been damaged.

Documentation individuals needed to register:

  • Social Security number
  • Address of the location where the damage occurred (pre-disaster address)
  • Current mailing address
  • Current telephone number
  • Insurance information
  • Total household annual income
  • Routing and account number for your checking or savings account (this allows FEMA to directly transfer disaster assistance funds into your bank account).
  • A description of your disaster-caused damage and losses


After an individual registers with FEMA for assistance, FEMA will call within to schedule a visit from an inspector (FEMA notes it will call within ten days, but that may take longer in the event of a catastrophic disaster). If an individual is approved, he/she will receive a check by mail or direct deposit with instructions noting how the funds should be spent (keep receipts for at least three years). Individuals who are not approved are given an opportunity to appeal.

FEMA also urges people to avoid scam artists, by asking FEMA contracted inspectors to present their FEMA ID card, and never provide credit card or bank account information. FEMA also charges no fees for inspections.

The process for registering generally takes 20-minutes (not including gathering of required documentation), and up to 40 minutes for an on-site home inspection.

Questions and answers about assistance, provided by FEMA:

Q: What kinds of FEMA grants are available?
A: Disaster assistance may include grants to help pay for temporary housing, emergency home repairs, uninsured and underinsured personal property losses and medical, dental and funeral expenses caused by the disaster, along with other serious disaster-related expenses.

Q: What happens after I register?
A: You will receive a phone call from a FEMA inspector to arrange for a survey of the damages. This will come just days after you register. All FEMA inspectors will have official identification. They do not approve or deny claims or requests; those come after the inspection results are submitted. FEMA inspectors do not ask for money and do not recommend contractors to make repairs.

Q.  I've 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. Before and after photos of the damaged property can help expedite your application for assistance.

Q: Does my income need to be under a certain dollar amount to qualify for disaster aid?
A: FEMA's Housing Assistance program is available, regardless of income, to anyone who suffered damages or losses in disaster-declared counties. However, aid for other losses such as personal property, vehicle repair or replacement, and moving and storage expenses is income-dependent and officials make decisions on a case-by-case basis. To be considered for a grant for these types of losses, the applicant must complete an application for an SBA loan.

Q.  I have flood insurance.  Should I still register with FEMA?
A.  Yes.  But please contact your insurance company first.

Q: Does the Small Business Administration (SBA) offer loans to homeowners and renters?
A: Yes. The SBA is the primary source of financial assistance following a disaster and provides low-interest disaster loans to homeowners and renters.

Q: Do I have to be turned down by my bank before I can apply for a disaster loan?
A: No. The SBA has its own criteria for determining each loan applicant's eligibility.

Q: If I rent an apartment, can I get help to replace my damaged personal property?
A: Yes. Renters may qualify for a FEMA grant. Renters may also qualify for SBA disaster loans.

Q: Will FEMA pay for all home repairs or contract work?
A: No. FEMA does not pay to return your home to its pre-disaster condition. FEMA provides grants to qualified homeowners to repair damage not covered by insurance, but these grants may not pay for all the damage. However, an SBA disaster loan may return a home to its pre-disaster condition.

Q: Do I have to repay money I receive for disaster relief?
A: No. You do not have to repay grant money, however SBA disaster loans must be repaid.

Q: Do I have to be a legal U.S. resident to receive Individual Assistance?
A: No. If you have a child living at home who is a U.S. citizen or a qualified alien, you may apply for Individual Assistance on that child's behalf and you may be eligible to receive Individual Assistance. FEMA may provide undocumented, eligible immigrants with short-term, non-cash emergency aid.

FEMA reminds people that they never have to pay a fee to apply for federal disaster assistance.

Click to view rumor control information from FEMA. People can also call FEMA's Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721, or the Florida Attorney General's Fraud and Price Gouging Hotline at 1-866-966-7226.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also responded to President Donald Trump's major disaster declaration for Florida by offering foreclosure relief and mortgage insurance available both for mortgages and home rehabilitation. It will also make block grants to local governments to help with disaster relief.

Flood insurance extension, extended grace period

To support the ongoing disaster recovery, FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program enhancing its flood insurance claims process, and extending the grace period for paying policy renewal premiums for insured survivors affected by Hurricane Irma.

Due to the wide-spread catastrophic damage, FEMA implemented temporary changes to rush up to $20,000 in recovery money into the hands of policyholders for repair and replacement of flood-damaged properties. FEMA also wants to ensure continuous flood insurance coverage for current NFIP policyholders affected by this storm, even if the renewed policy premium cannot be paid at this time.

FEMA is directing all NFIP private insurance partners to.

• Provide advance payments on flood claims, even before visits by an adjuster;
• Increase the advance payment allowable for policyholders who provide photographs or video depicting flood  damage and expenses, or a contractor’s itemized estimate;
• Waive use of the initial Proof of Loss form; and
• Extend the grace period for payment of NFIP flood insurance policy renewal premiums to 120 days.

Sheltering, immediate assistance available after Irma

Multiple immediate assistance and short-term housing options are available to support survivors in building a bridge to recovery:

FEMA’s Transitional Sheltering Assistance: Focused on sheltering as an immediate priority, FEMA is making Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) available to eligible survivors in the state of Florida, who are unable to return to their pre-disaster primary residence because their home is either uninhabitable or inaccessible. TSA provides disaster survivors with a short-term stay in a hotel or motel.

Through direct payments to lodging providers, TSA is intended to reduce the number of disaster survivors in shelters by transitioning survivors into short-term accommodations.

Eligible survivors can find the list of TSA-approved hotels on www.DisasterAssistance.gov, and click on the Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) Program – Participating Hotel List link. If internet access is unavailable, the FEMA Helpline (1-800-621-3362) can assist with locating a participating property. Survivors should contact the hotel directly to secure a hotel room prior to traveling to the hotel.

Rental Assistance: Assistance through FEMA’s Individual and Households Program may be available to eligible applicants to secure temporary housing while repairs are being made to the pre-disaster primary residence, or while transitioning to permanent housing while applicant survivor is displaced from their primary residence.

Temporary Blue Roofs: The recent hurricane has left many homeowners with damaged roofs, which can take time to repair. In order to mitigate additional damage that could result from rain, homeowners can have plastic sheeting installed over the damaged area by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Currently the USACE, FEMA, and local officials in disaster designated areas are conducting assessments for this program. Additional information will be available in the coming days on how to access this type of assistance, but the first step is registering with FEMA for federal assistance.

Disaster Unemployment Assistance is available for Florida residents whose jobs were affected by Hurricane Irma, specifically those who live or work in the counties included in the major disaster declaration. This may include people not normally eligible for unemployment benefits, such as self-employed persons and farm-workers. They can apply for unemployment benefits online at Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity.

Disaster Distress Helpline: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Disaster Distress Helpline (1-800-985-5990) remains open 24/7 for free help coping with the stress of the storm. This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions after a disaster.

Loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA) may be available to help repair flood-related damage to your home or business and replace personal property. The SBA provides low-interest disaster loans of up to $200,000 to repair a primary residence, up to $40,000 for homeowners and renters to replace personal property, and up to $2 million to businesses and most private non-profits for physical damage and economic injury needs as a result of the disaster. Survivors need to register with FEMA first to determine their eligibility for any federal assistance that may be available.

Immediate Foreclosure Relief from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) may be available for Florida and Puerto Rico residents in disaster-designated areas. HUD is granting a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures and forbearance on foreclosures of Federal Housing Administration (FHA)-insured home mortgages. HUD is also offering longer-term recovery assistance to survivors and impacted communities. For more information, visit HUD’s website.

There may be additional forms of immediate assistance available to survivors in declared areas to address critical needs such as water, food, first aid, prescriptions, infant formula, diapers, consumable medical supplies, durable medical equipment, personal hygiene items, and fuel for transportation. When survivors register for assistance they will receive referrals for the programs that may be available to them.

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