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Will FEMA Help Me? | Low Income Disaster Guide

Will FEMA Help Me? | Low Income Disaster Guide

When disaster strikes, it’s normal to have a million questions. Will FEMA help me? Will they pay for my flooded car? Will they replace my house that was destroyed? Can I get a FEMA trailer? There’s so much that is unknown and it can feel overwhelming.

In this article, we will make it easier to understand what FEMA is, what this organization does, and how they help low income Americans recover from disasters.

What is FEMA?

FEMA, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is a U.S. government agency tasked with helping communities and individuals cope with natural and man-made disasters. Whether it’s a hurricane, wildfire, flood, or other crisis, this organization steps in to provide immediate relief and long-term support.

When disaster strikes, FEMA works with state and local governments to offer resources like food, water, and temporary housing. The agency also provides financial assistance to help people rebuild their homes and lives. From search and rescue operations to helping businesses get back on their feet, they play a crucial role in disaster recovery.

FEMA was created in 1979 by an executive order, consolidating various federal agencies and programs aimed at disaster relief and civil defense into one centralized agency. Over the years, their role role has evolved to include not just immediate relief efforts, but also disaster preparedness, mitigation, and recovery. The agency came under the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, further emphasizing its importance in coordinating responses to various kinds of emergencies.

What does FEMA do?

Since 1979, FEMA has provided assistance to local and state authorities in the event of a disaster, natural or otherwise. When a local authority declares a state of emergency and requests direct help from the Executive Branch of the federal government, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is utilized to respond to the event. Services provided can include, but are not limited to:

  • Pre-disaster analysis programs to reduce risks in the event of a disaster
  • Pre-disaster mitigation grants
  • Disaster medical assistance teams
  • Urban search and rescue
  • Mobile emergency response support
  • Relief funds for state and local governments
  • Relief funds for affected individuals and families

While the bulk of FEMA’s work involves direct disaster relief for state and local governments, it also deals directly with individuals and families. More specifically, they provide aid to those who have experienced losses in the wake of a disaster.

How Will FEMA Help Me?

The short answer is, “yes, FEMA may help you if you meet certain criteria.”

There are several different programs available and each one has a different focus. In order to find out if FEMA can help you with your specific needs, you’ll need to consider the rules and requirements of the following programs.

Individuals & Households Program (IHP)

The Individuals & Households Program program provides financial assistance and direct services to eligible people who have been affected by a disaster. This program is designed to help you meet your basic needs and is not a substitute for insurance.

The IHP program has two parts: Housing and Other Needs Assistance.

In any case, to qualify for IHP compensation, you will need to meet the following requirements:

  • You have experienced losses or damaged property in a presidentially-declared disaster area
  • You have no insurance or you’ve filed a claim and your insurance does not cover all of your losses
  • You or someone in your household is a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien
  • Your primary home is the one affected by the disaster
  • You either can’t access your home or your home needs repairs as a result of the disaster

As you can see, FEMA grants are generally reserved for people who experience property damage during a disaster. This organization does not provide Unemployment Insurance (UI) or aid for small businesses affected by disasters. If you’re unemployed as a result of a disaster, you’ll need to contact your local unemployment office. Alternatively, if you need a low-interest small business loan, you can contact the Small Business Administration.

Regardless of how FEMA helps you, the IHP Assistance is limited to 18 months following the disaster declaration date. In some very limited circumstances, they may be able to extend that deadline but it is very rare.

Housing Assistance

Depending on your individual circumstances, FEMA may be able to help you navigate a variety of different housing situations.

Financial assistance, such as rental assistance or hotel reimbursement, may be available if you are unable to live in your home.

If there aren’t enough rental homes or hotels available to house everyone who needs help, the government may authorize the use of temporary housing units. These are commonly referred to as FEMA trailers. Not all disaster areas will be served by FEMA trailers. They are only deployed if there is not enough housing to go around.

FEMA can also provide assistance with repair or replacement of your home. This assistance is only valid for primary residences, not second homes or vacation homes. It has to be the home that you live in. The assistance provided is intended to ensure that your home is safe to live in, so it may not restore your home to it’s pre-disaster state.

You may also be able to get help with hazard mitigation as well. These funds are intended to help you repair or rebuild your home in a way that makes it more resistant to future disasters. This could include installing upgraded windows or other features that will make your home safer.

Other Needs Assistance (ONA)

The Other Needs Assistance program provides financial assistance for uninsured or underinsured losses that have occurred as the result of a disaster. It can also help you with expenses that were caused by the disaster, such as disaster-related child care, moving or funeral costs.

Some of the things that Other Needs Assistance can cover include:

  • Accessibility Items
  • Cleaning Tools & Supplies
  • Clothing
  • Disaster-related Child Care
  • Disaster-related Dental Costs
  • Disaster-related Medical Costs
  • Disability-related Expenses
  • Educational Materials (including computers, schoolbooks and supplies)
  • Furniture
  • Medical equipment
  • Moving & Storage Expenses
  • Vehicle Damage (for your primary essential vehicle only)
  • Work Tools
  • Work Uniforms

In order to be eligible for certain types of Other Needs Assistance, you will need to fill out a loan application with the Small Business Administration. According to the FEMA handbook, “Some types of ONA may only be provided if an applicant does not qualify for a disaster loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration.”

Some of the SBA-dependent types of ONA include:

Crisis Counseling Assistance & Training Program

Experiencing a disaster can often take a toll on your mental health. FEMA’s Crisis Counseling Assistance Program helps people who have been affected by a major declared disaster.

Help through this program is provided for free to those who have survived the disaster. These services can be provided in shelters, places or worship or even in survivor’s homes, as group or one-on-one sessions.

Unlike traditional counseling, Disaster Crisis Counseling focuses on the immediate impact of the disaster. They do not diagnose people. Instead, they help survivors understand that their reactions are normal. The counselors do not keep records or case files. They are simply there to help survivors cope with the disaster and manage their stress.

Mass Care & Emergency Assistance

The Mass Care & Emergency Assistance Program is provided to all impacted survivors. This program can provide help with shelter, food, emergency supplies, and evacuee support.

This program also helps reunite families who were separated during the disaster. They provide additional support to owners and their household pets, including service animals.

You can find a FEMA shelter near you by texting SHELTER and your zip code to 43362. You can also look up shelters through the FEMA app or by using the American Red Cross shelter map.

Disaster Legal Services

Disaster Legal services provides free legal aid to those who have been affected by a declared disaster. This is intended to help people navigate cases that wouldn’t normally incur legal fees.

Some of the things that Disaster Legal Services can hep with include:

  • Contractor disputes
  • Document replacement
  • FEMA Appeals
  • Guardianship Documents
  • Insurance claims
  • Landlord disputes
  • Power of Attorney

Other Assistance Programs

There are other assistance programs administered by FEMA as well. They coordinate volunteers, maintain referral lists, and can help reconnect missing friends and family.

Will FEMA Help Me?

In order to be eligible for help from FEMA, you have to meet some strict eligibility criteria. These include the following:

  • You must be a US citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified non-citizen.
  • You need to have a valid Social Security Number.
  • Your damaged home must be your primary residence.
  • You must share information about any insurance coverage that you have.

For some programs, additional requirements may apply. For example, if you are applying for home repair or replacement assistance, then you must prove that you owned the home at the time of the disaster. Renters cannot apply for repair or replacement assistance.

How to Apply

If you want to apply for the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund. You can apply online at

You can also submit an application at your local FEMA Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) or call FEMA at 1-800-621-3362 (or 1-800-462-7585 for the hearing impaired). As part of your application, you will need to provide the following information:

  • The address of your damaged home or apartment
  • The names of everyone living in your household
  • A description of the disaster-related damages
  • Your insurance information
  • Your Social Security number (if applicable)
  • Your contact information
  • Banking information for direct payment

Once you’ve submitted an application, a FEMA inspector will call and make an appointment to evaluate the damages. If you cannot keep this appointment, you will need to contact FEMA as soon as possible to reschedule. During the inspection, you or another adult living in the house will need to be present to answer questions and show the inspector all of the disaster-related damages.

FAQs about FEMA

When disaster strikes, it’s normal to have questions. Here are some of the most common questions about FEMA.

How much FEMA assistance can I get?

If you meet the criteria above and your application is approved, the amount you receive will vary based on the extent of your losses. According to a 2016 study, FEMA pays out an average of $8,000 per household. However, that number can go as high as $33,000.

Again, it will depend on the extent of your losses. A FEMA inspector will come to your home to evaluate the extent of your losses and determine (assuming you qualify) how much you will get in FEMA compensation.

What happens if my FEMA application is denied?

If your FEMA application is denied, you do have other options to get relief funds. First and foremost, if you feel that your application was wrongly denied, you can apply for an appeal. Disaster Legal Services can help you with your appeal. You can also apply for emergency funds through the Small Business Administration, even if you don’t own a small business. This organization helps renters and homeowners as well!


FEMA is a federally-funded program that assists states, localities, and individuals in the event of a disaster. However, while FEMA provides a wide range of services and funds to local governments, funds for individuals or households are more limited in scope. It can be tricky to figure out how to get FEMA funds, as it will largely depend on when you apply and the scope of your disaster-related losses. However, if you follow the steps above and meet the necessary criteria, you can get your FEMA funds and begin the recovery process quickly.

If you’d like to learn more about your rights as a homeowner or renter in a disaster area, check out our guide to free legal aid in all 50 states!

The Low Income Relief Team has over 10 years of experience exclusively researching low income topics. Because we focus on keeping our content as up-to-date as possible, our articles are regularly revised by different authors. When an article has significant contributions from at least two different authors, we use the designation "Low Income Relief Team." Articles attributed to this author may also include some contributions by AI tools. However, every article written by the Low Income Relief Team is personally reviewed by our founder and resident poverty expert prior to publication.


Thursday 14th of September 2023

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