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Three Steps to Getting FEMA Disaster Assistance

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute adapted from Georgia Legal Services Program
Reviewed September, 2021

If the govenor calls for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help with a natural disaster you may be able to get disaster assistance.

FEMA can help if the disaster damaged your property or stopped you from working.  Register with FEMA even if you have insurance or you are not sure you are eligible for disaster assistance.

FEMA disaster assistance may pay for things that no other disaster assistance will cover. You may be able to get a grant to help pay for rent, emergency home repairs and other serious disaster-related expenses like medical, dental, funeral or burial costs.


Federal disaster assistance will not pay for damage that other resources have covered. You will not get paid for the same damages twice.

Homeowners, renters, business owners and nonprofit organizations may be able to get low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). These loans are to help you recover from losses that insurance, grants or other sources would not pay for. No one has to take out a loan, but the application must be filled out to get other types of assistance.

Step one: registration


If you have insurance get in touch with your insurance agency before you register with FEMA

Register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Register even if you are not sure you can get help.


  • Call (800) 621-FEMA, or (800) 621-3362;
  • The TTY line number for the hearing impaired is (800) 462-7585, or use 711 Video Relay Service to call 1-621-3362;
  • Phones are open between 7 am. and 1 am. daily;
  • Apply online - online it is called "applying". 
  • smartphone

When calling FEMA, you will need:

  • your Social Security number,
  • your current mailing address,
  • the address of the damaged property,
  • a brief description of the damages, 
  • any insurance information, including the policy number and the name of your agent, and
  • a phone number where you can be reached.

You may have difficulty getting through. Keep trying.

FEMA may set up disaster recovery centers that will help people through the steps for getting help.

Fill out and return your SBA low-interest disaster loan application if you receive one. Returning the application does not mean you have to accept an SBA loan, but you must complete the application to be considered for other types of disaster assistance.

Step two: inspections

After you register, a FEMA-contracted housing inspector will call you to set up an appointment to inspect your property. The service is free. But you must get an inspection so FEMA can have official proof of the damages.

Make sure your home or mailbox number is easy to see from the road. As part of the inspection process, you must prove you own or live in the property;

  • Homeowners may show a tax bill, deed, mortgage payment receipt or insurance policy with the property's address.
  • Renters may show a lease, rent payment receipt, utility bill or other document that shows the home was your primary residence at the time of the disaster.

You must also show the inspector a valid driver's license or other photo ID.

Step three: keep in touch

If FEMA cannot get in touch with you, they cannot give you a grant. One of the top five reasons people do not get their grant is because FEMA cannot find them. FEMA tries to reach applicants many times before they decide on an application. Inform FEMA right away if you change your telephone number or your mailing address. To update them, call the FEMA Helpline or use the disaster assistance website.

Getting a FEMA grant

FEMA will send you your grant if they find you are eligible under the Individuals and Households Program. If you have given them your bank details - name, address, routing number and account number, - they can deposit the money directly into your account. This is often the fastest way to get your your funds. Typically, it takes 10 days after your inspection.

If you get a check in the mail, deposit it as soon as possible.

You must use the money for the disaster-related assistance for which it is intended. You will receive a letter outlining how the funds are to be spent.

More information or questions 

For any help you might need - filling out the applications, general questions or progress reports - call the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-FEMA (3362), or TTY 800-462-7585, and select the language you speak. FEMA may set up a disaster recovery center where you can speak with someone face to face.

Problems with FEMA application, legal information or advice, contact a lawyer.

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