How to File A FEMA Claim

Filing a FEMA disaster assistance claim can be a lot of work and a test of patience. This guide can help you through the process.
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When a natural disaster strikes, it can get back to a normal way of life. For many people, that means taking each day at a time and trying to make your home livable again. For those who lost everything, it might mean trying to find safe shelter for a few days or longer.

The good news is that there is help available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other organizations. We have updated this resource to help people file a FEMA claim to help put their lives back in order.

FEMA Disaster Assistance

Tornadoes, winter storms, fires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters can cause massive damage.

Many people who live in a federally designated disaster area may qualify for FEMA disaster assistance funds. This money is meant to assist people and businesses whose property was damaged or destroyed and whose losses are not covered by insurance.

It’s important to note that you first need to file an insurance claim before you can file a claim through FEMA. This is important even if you know your claim will not be covered by insurance. For example, most homeowners insurance policies don’t cover flood damage.

You should always check your policy and purchase flood insurance separately if needed. This is essential if you live in a flood plain or coastal area.

Flood insurance can be expensive, but it can be much cheaper than paying out of pocket to repair flood-damaged items or replace your household goods. You can purchase flood insurance through the FEMA National Flood Insurance Program.

FEMA disaster assistance is not intended to restore your damaged property to its condition before the disaster. It is only meant to help people with critical expenses that cannot be covered in other ways.

This is why homeowners insurance and flood insurance are so important. Click here for more types of insurance homeowners should buy.

Types of FEMA Housing Needs Assistance

FEMA offers people in disaster areas different types of housing assistance to help them through the disaster. Examples of assistance include Temporary Housing, Repairs, Replacement, and Permanent Housing Construction.

Temporary Housing (a place to live for a limited period of time): Temporary Housing can include a hotel stay, government-provided housing, or a rental unit if available.

Repair: Money is available to homeowners to repair damage from the disaster to their primary residence that is not covered by insurance. The goal is to make the damaged home safe, sanitary, and functional.

Replacement: Funds may also be available to homeowners to replace their home destroyed in the disaster if it is not covered by insurance.

Permanent Housing Construction: Direct assistance or money for the construction of a home. This type of help occurs only in insular areas or remote locations specified by FEMA, where no other kind of housing assistance is possible.

Non-Housing Disaster Assistance Needs

Housing and shelter are generally the most important needs that most people experience after a disaster. However, other needs arise, particularly needs including medical, food, water, power, and more.

FEMA may assist with disaster-related medical and dental costs, funeral and burial costs, clothing, fuel, cleanup items, transportation, moving and storage expenses, generator reimbursement, and more.

To qualify for this form of aid, you will need to meet specific criteria, including living in a federal disaster area, your losses are not covered by insurance or other means, you have exhausted all other sources of assistance.

Certain citizenship or residential status requirements may also apply.

FEMA Reimburses Some Generator Costs

Several years ago, our area was hit by a natural disaster, and my friends searched the neighboring counties until they were able to locate a store that still had generators available.

Finding a generator for sale during a natural disaster isn’t easy. They are difficult to find, prices are at a premium, and obtaining fuel is a test in patience. FEMA will reimburse generator costs for some people, but not in all cases.

From the FEMA FAQ page:

I was told that FEMA would reimburse me up to $800 for the purchase of a generator, is that true?

FEMA reviews requests for reimbursement of the cost of a generator on a case-by-case basis. The maximum eligible reimbursable amount is based on a determination of the median price of a generator sufficient to power an average-sized home.

You would not be eligible for reimbursement if you purchased the generator after your power was restored.

I need to call them today and let them know the situation because they heard this from a rumor, and there wasn’t any qualifying information given – the rumor stated that FEMA would reimburse people up to $800 for a generator.

Don’t buy a generator for the sole reason that you think FEMA will reimburse you. You may not be reimbursed, and you may be taking a generator someone else may need for medical conditions such as respirators, dialysis machines, and more.

If you need the generator, you should certainly buy it, be aware that reimbursement is not automatic.

How to Apply for FEMA Assistance

You can apply for FEMA assistance over the phone or online. In both cases, particularly over the phone, have patience. The system may be overloaded with many people trying to make claims at the same time.

And remember, the people working for FEMA are doing their best to help you, extending them your patience and courtesy can go a long way in helping your claim get registered accurately.

Remember, you need to file your insurance claim first. FEMA Disaster Assistance is only designed to help cover costs not covered by your insurance policy. So you have to show FEMA your insurance company denied your claim.

When you make your claim, be sure to have the following information ready to make the process go more smoothly:

  • Your Social Security number.
  • Current and pre-disaster address.
  • A telephone number where you can be contacted.
  • Insurance information.
  • Total household annual income
  • A routing and account number from your bank (if you want to have disaster assistance funds transferred directly into your bank account)
  • A description of your losses that were caused by the disaster.

You will receive a FEMA claim number. Write this down and keep it! You will need it for future reference! You can make a claim at the FEMA Individual Assistance Center. You may also be eligible for aid from the Small Business Administration if you are a business owner.

After Applying for FEMA Assistance

After you apply for assistance, you should wait 24 hours to check the system for your claim status. This can be a long time to wait if you are in an emergency, so be sure to take care of yourself during this time. Get the help you need and worry about the aid later.

FEMA will send an inspector to your residence to inspect your damage and assess your needs. Be sure to have as much information to support your claim as possible. This can include copies of your insurance policy, pictures, and other information.

If you have insurance, you need to have a copy of your insurance decision letter (settlement or denial of the claim). Remember, you must exhaust all other forms of assistance before receiving FEMA aid.

Important notes regarding FEMA home inspections:

  • Contracted inspectors, not FEMA employees perform FEMA inspections. They merely report facts; they do not decide settlement issues.
  • FEMA inspections are free. DO NOT pay for a FEMA home inspection!
  • You must be able to show proof of ownership or occupancy (deed, tax forms, mortgage paperwork, driver’s license, the insurance policy at the address, utility bill, public records, etc.).

It can take up to 10 days after your inspection before your claim is approved or denied. The entire FEMA claims process can take several weeks because you will need first to get an insurance claim, wait for an inspection, then wait an additional ten days for the decision.

If you qualify for a FEMA grant, you will receive monetary aid in the form of a check or direct deposit, depending on the form you chose when you applied for aid. It is important to note that you can only spend the grant money on eligible expenses, which will be noted in your decision letter.

If you use the money on other expenses, you may be required to refund the money to FEMA and may not be eligible for further aid. Keep your receipts for three years in the event of a FEMA audit.

The FEMA granted funds are tax-free, do not have to be repaid, do not count as income for social security or other aid, and is exempt from garnishment, seizure, encumbrance, levy, execution, pledge, attachment, release, or waiver. The money may not be reassigned or transferred to another person.

If you do not qualify for a FEMA grant, you can still appeal FEMA’s decision. You will need to make your appeal in writing. Be thorough and be sure to include all information regarding your claim, including additional documents, photos, the FEMA claim number, and any other information you feel is vital for your case.

Frequently asked questions regarding FEMA claims: The FEMA website has a FAQ menu you can check for additional information.

If you can’t find your answer there, I highly recommend calling a FEMA representative at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or visit a nearby Disaster Recovery Center. They should be able to assist you with your claim.

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  1. LARRY D HADDEN says

    i live in Cantonment, Florida, just north of Pensacola, Florida. My wife and I endured hurricane Sally. I have home insurance and sufffered some damage water-wise around my chimney and my barn roof requires replacing,. I also lost approximately all food items in two refrigerators/freezer. Adjuster said that my insurance will pay for food lost, barn roof, and water leaks around the chimney. I have numerous trees down on my property, too large to cut with my Kobalt electrio chainsaw. The downed trees are my main concern at present. One is a hazard leaning over my only driveway. Will Fema reimburse me for a purchased gasoline chainsaw to rid my property of the trees? The downed trees are not covered by my insurance. This afternoon I called a Fema rep and he told me that chain saws were on the list of reimbursable items and to keep my receipt and file a claim and I would be reimbursed. Please advise if this is true soonest Thank you!.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Larry, I would go with what the FEMA rep advises you. Contact their office or visit their website and follow the reimbursement instructions they give you. Best wishes!

  2. teresa j dixon says

    own a home in Louisiana in 2016 remodeled flooring in home it is now the end of 2019 and working on having flooring redone again due to standing water under my home have contacted fema but so far nothing as it has not been established as a flood area , I am 67 years old and am on a very low fixed income , How do I get some Help ??

  3. Evonne Moore says

    A great many people lost food after the Memorial Day tornadoes in Dayton…as in any other town… Why does FEMA deny any funds to replace groceries?

  4. Julian R Gershon says

    I am applying for FEMA financial assistance due to loss of power to my home for 7 days as a result of Irma hurricane.

  5. Kai says

    I live in an apartment and my neighbors got approved for a claim for not having power for seven days but they just mentioned a loan for me.. what did I do wrong and can I fix it?

  6. rosa says

    Does anyone if 2 people can apply for Fema disaster assistance using the same address? I rent an efficiency and was without power for 5 days.

  7. Bonita houmita says

    I appreciate FEMA. Hurricane Mathew caused extensive flooding, city sewage systems failed from too much rain. Downed pumping stations and drainage and sewer pipes overwhelmed caused sewage backup in my home. I lived here several years and thru many hurricanes. I was not in a flood zone, but surprise! We flooded and sewage back up. I had State Farm insurance. It took nearly 12 days for the assessor to come. My hot water heater and HVAC were under water. My lower level of my home and under my house were under sewage and flood water back up. It cost thousands. Mold everywhere, stink everywhere, damage everywhere. Insurance paid pennies on the dollar, and we fought tooth and nail. The assessor under-assessed and the depreciate everything, even paint. Asbestos serviced, kids sick from mold, I was in a daze. I still am. So much damage and loss. Years of hard work destroyed.

    I was thankful FEMA came made sure we had a safe place to live or go food clothes shelter medicine. No they don’t pay for everything, just necessity, like medical equipment, help with emergency stuff and some help to get house safe clean and habitable. But not to where it was, just necessity. Please, I never thought it could happen to me. I’m on high elevation was told I didn’t need flood insurance. But the flood didn’t come up and thru my front door. It came in thru the city pipes, hydrostatic pressure from so much ran back up into my home breaking pipes and ruining and destroying everything it touched with sewage which has bio hazards and every nasty microorganism imaginable disease causing and than comes the molds of every color and firm than the rot, than the bugs.

    GOD BLESS FEMA cause they came and they helped and offered my family a safe and habitable option, rather than live in sewage mold and disease microorganism infested house. Maybe you have never had a disaster, and maybe you never will. But I’m a true believer that All Americans should help each other in time of disaster. And maybe, just maybe, a tornadoes an earthquake a flood a blizzard may never come to your door step. But only God knows. If you live in a place in the USA and don’t think global warming is real and you believe it’s all a hoax just ask the folks who have been affected by it. We are in the millions, we are Americans living in America, praise God for FEMA.

  8. Laurena Jerez says

    My friend lost everything to the flood of 7/18/2015 in Wickenburg, AZ. No one ever told him that he could possibly apply for fema assistance for all of his damages/losses amounted to over $65,000. He was only a renter w/o ins. Can he be still eligible for losses he sustained even though its 1 year since this happened?

  9. mad says

    I lost my car and other valuables and FEMA didn’t claim any of my things… He just told me Good Luck.. Now what?

  10. don washington says

    I need help with my home because of the flood and fema has denied me twice. My heating unit was damaged, my ceiling fell in and I have mold. What do I need to do to get approved because I can’t afford to fix my house

  11. Laquetta says

    I have applied for assistance twice and got denied. I lost personal belongings as well as my work computer. That’s how I make my money. What should I do next?

  12. Janai says

    Same with me Bernice and Vichelle. Im in IL we had very heavy rains and flooding. The inspector came out in a timely fashion like with 2-3 days, he told me I’d get a denial letter first, they deny everyone, appeal it and you will get assistance. I did that applied, got denied, appealed for them to still say no. They said I didn’t have enough damages to be eligible for a grant. I have over $5k of water damage with personal property damages coming up to that amount as well. I did apply for and get a SBA loan which I am grateful for no doubt but its just one more bill to add to the list of impending bills piling up since the flood. Unfortunately the loan is not going to even cover half the stuff I need done, at least not by a professional anyway, so I’m stuck DIY. I don’t exactly know who these programs help. Certainly not what I expected.

  13. charles says

    I was displaced from a hotel in Atlantic City due to Hurricane Sandy. My family and I had resided at the hotel for the past year due to the fact that it was all we could afford. All our personal belongings were destroyed excluding what we had on our backs. I applied for fa assistance and was contacted by an inspector to inspect the property, but how would be inspect the property being that it was a hotel and am I eligible for assistance.?

  14. Peggy Figueroa says

    Hello, Ryan,

    Thank you for this site. It is very helpful. I have a small cafe that was without power for 7 days after hurricane Sandy. I lost all of the inventory, a week’s worth of sales and some equipment (air conditioner/heater) located on the roof was damaged and is not working. As the owner/operator I also lost my payroll for that week.

    Does FEMA grant money help this type of loss?

    Thanks again.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Peggy, The most common assistance I’ve heard of for small business owners comes in the form of loans. I know there is a big difference between a loan and a grant, since loans have to be repaid, and this has been one of the biggest complaints I’ve read about concerning FEMA’s aid for small businesses. There may be other options, however, I am not intimately familiar with all the options available. I wish you the best.

  15. Antonio says


    I have liability coverage as required by law but did not have comprhensive on my vehicle what are the chances of FEMA providing assistance? thank you

    • Ryan Guina says

      I’m sorry to hear about your damaged car, Antonio. To be honest, I don’t know anything about FEMA offering assistance for vehicles. You will need to contact them. Best of luck, and I hope the recovery is going well.

  16. dawn says

    My boss is telling me that my paystubs are unavailable because the book keeper sent everything to Baltimore when she applied for FEMA assistance after the last hurricane. Could this be true?

    • Ryan says

      Dawn, your company should keep records of all your pay stubs. I believe it is a requirement. You will need to take this up with your payroll department or contact FEMA to see what they can do to assist you. Best of luck.

  17. Vichelle A. Frazier says

    I was caught in the disaster in Shelby County Tennessee back in May of this year. I lost my vehicle in the flood. I did not have liability coverage on the car, FEMA denied me three times, and I was also denied for a loan. It is becomming more and more difficult to get back and forth to work now-a-days. Is there any hope in sight. I thought FEMA was supposed to help. I know people who received over $5,000. from FEMA for no reason. All I want is to be able to keep my job! WHat to do?

    • bernice stine says

      GOOD LUCK!!!!! A giant tree fell on my car during hurricain sandy,and totaled my car, i’m on social security disability,so i applied to fema requesting their help to replace my car,after gathering up all in fo they requested,about 4 weeks i get a letter asking to sign a declaration and release form which i did then sent back to wait an other 10 days,just to recieve a denial notice!!!!! I cried for hours,why is it that thoes who truely need help can’t seem to get it?so if ya think fema is going to come to your resque don’t hold your breath!!!!!!!!

  18. Larry says

    Sorry forgot to mention in my question above “I was wondering does/will FEMA give an individual “rental assistance” and a grant for “real & personal” property? Or is it one or the other? Or is a case by case basis?” that this was regarding the flood damage in Illinois.

    • Rylee says

      Vichelle, I am in the same boay. Just bought my car and fema declined me due to not insuring it yet. I bought it three days before storm. Insurance co. wouldnt insure bc storm coming in. I am now going to go thru the appeals process to see if fema can or can direct me to another charity that would take my case in. if u go forward and get anywhere, please contact me. I will do the same. I know ppl r getting $7500 for their cars and their car isnt even worth that amt. I just want what I lost, no more. Email me so I hv ur direct email so I can keep u posted. Good luck, this has been a disaster.

  19. Larry says

    I was wondering does/will FEMA give an individual “rental assistance” and a grant for “real & personal” property? Or is it one or the other? Or is a case by case basis?

  20. sandy says

    I just want to make sure that when you get FEMA assistance you do not have to claim it on your taxes as income. Is that correct??

  21. Sherry Stansel says

    I received your email, but how can I find out what the gentle men put on my claim because we have found other things after we made or claim. Do we just tell the inspector when he come or do we have to refile, or make adjustment?

  22. Ryan says

    Sherry: It takes some time after you file a claim for it to be processed and for the inspectors to come out. It can actually take a few weeks before the inspectors can come – remember, they are processing thousands of claims and there aren’t many inspectors to go around., The best thing I can do is tell you to have patience and try again.

  23. Sherry Stansel says

    I have a claim and a # when i call it says they have no info in the system on me.just a few days ago I called and it gave me very little information. It said my claim was made September 15th. I have seen no inspector and I am not sure when I made my claim if the gentleman I spoke to got all my information.

  24. Ryan says

    Joan, I’m sorry to hear about your losses in the hurricane, but happy to hear that they were minimal – all things considered. The best thing I can recommend is to contact FEMA directly and get their response on your particular claim. I wish you luck.

  25. joan shelton says

    i was told i can request re-imbursement (partial) from fema for losses. for instance
    refrigerated items due to no elec. power, need to get repairs on easement of trailer and skirting. i am 77 years old, have no home insurance (all state terminated mobile homes)

  26. Mr. ToughMoneyLove says

    Ryan – I’m sure those who are in need appreciate the info you are supplying. What concerns me is not the fraud (which is always present). Rather, private sector insurers are loving the increased role of FEMA and are going to wean themselves from insuring any risks associated with a weather disaster. This will force the feds into assuming an even greater role and will spread the cost to everyone. I for one don’t want to pay taxes to insure coastal property.

  27. Ryan says

    I agree, MTML. I think aid should be given to those who sincerely need it for survival, not because they were “inconvenienced.” And I think there are a lot of people who respect that ideal. But there will always be those who are looking for handouts.

    I also think FEMA has made some major improvements since Hurricane Katrina, and the current set up reduces the amount of fraud and waste that was so rampant in Katrina’s aftermath. I know it won’t be perfect, but I think it will be an improvement.

  28. Mr. ToughMoneyLove says

    FEMA, AIG, whatever – the U.S. government has become the nation’s insurance company and all taxpayers will be paying the premiums to our graves and beyond. Welcome to the brave new world of socialized risk.

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