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According to FEMA, “the mission of FEMA’s Public Assistance (PA) Program is to provide assistance to state, local, territorial, or tribal (SLTT) governments and certain types of private nonprofit (PNP) organizations so that communities can quickly respond to and recover from major disasters or emergencies declared by the President. Through the PA Program, FEMA provides supplemental grant assistance for debris removal, emergency

protective measures, and the restoration of disaster- damaged, publicly owned facilities and specific facilities of certain PNP organizations. The PA Program also encourages protection of these damaged facilities from future incidents by providing assistance for hazard mitigation measures. FEMA provides this assistance based on authority in statutes, executive orders (EOs), regulations, and policies through a cost-sharing model.”


The FEMA Public Assistance (PA) program offers financial assistance via reimbursement to eligible state, local, territorial, or tribal governments and certain types of private nonprofit organizations in designated areas after a presidentially declared disaster. FEMA refers to private non-profit organizations as PNPs. Public Assistance is not available to for-profit businesses.


Through the PA Program, FEMA provides grants for:

  • Emergency Work: immediate protective measures and debris removal

  • Permanent Work: restoration of damaged facilities, including cost-effective hazard mitigation to protect the facilities from future damage

FEMA gives the following examples of eligible noncritical private nonprofit organizations (PNPs) providing arts-related services:

Art services authorized by a state, local, territorial, or tribal government, including, but not limited to:

  • Arts administration

  • Art classes

  • Management of public arts festivals

  • Performing arts classes

Community center activities that serve the public

Multi-purpose arts programming

Performing arts centers with a primary purpose of producing, facilitating, or presenting live performances, including:

  • Construction of production materials

  • Creation of artistic works or productions

  • Design

  • Professional training

  • Public education

FEMA divides PNPs into two categories: critical organizations providing essential services (e.g., hospitals and schools) and noncritical organizations providing essential services. As an arts organization you may qualify as a noncritical organization and be eligible for FEMA PA, but your process will be different from that of critical PNPs. To be eligible for FEMA PA as a noncritical organization you will be required to apply for a low-interest disaster loan from the Small Business Administration as well as exhaust all other resources, such as insurance. FEMA provides assistance through a cost-sharing model where FEMA covers 75 percent of expenses and funding recipients are responsible for 25 percent.

If your arts nonprofit has been affected by a disaster and you want to pursue FEMA funding, you will be undertaking a variety of lengthy parallel processes with insurance, the SBA, and possibly other lenders. Because the process is layered and can be time consuming, you should make sure it is worthwhile to seek this funding stream.

FEMA and the SBA have different processes and deadlines and both must be followed.

To qualify for a FEMA PA grant, the cost of your project must be at least $3,300. To apply you will need your nonprofit’s founding documents (non- profit status letter, bylaws, and related items) as well as proof of ownership or responsibility to maintain your facility. This is described in more detail later.

FEMA’s Public Assistance Program and Policy Guide (PAPPG) delineates everything about FEMA Public Assistance in precise FEMA terminology, which we use here but try to simplify. The policy guide is commonly referred to as “Papa-G”. You may hear this used frequently in FEMA and disaster-assistance settings.


After a disaster, FEMA identifies impacts and prioritizes recovery efforts in partnership with state and local agencies. As a nonprofit arts organization you will likely be working with a state or local agency that receives FEMA funding (referred to as the “Recipient”) and is charged with disbursing (re-granting) it within the community. Organizations that apply for funding through their local agency are referred to as “Applicants.” If they receive funding they are then referred to as “Subrecipients.” This terminology can be a bit confusing as you are reading through the guidelines. When it has been decided that FEMA will allocate PA funding after a disaster, the Recipient will hold a local briefing, referred to as an “Applicant Briefing,” that your organization should try to attend to obtain more information.

FEMA lays out a detailed seven-step process for PA applicants. Though it’s a bit dense with FEMA-speak, we have closely followed their labels for consistency and to give you an idea of what to expect.

  1. Operational Planning
    Your organization will need to register to access FEMA’s online grants system (Grants Portal – NOT through and submit a Request for Public Assistance (RPA) within 30 days of the disaster declaration. RPAs are reviewed for eligibility by the local agency and FEMA. Once complete, you will be assigned a Program Delivery Manager (PDMG) who will schedule a call and a “scoping” meeting to provide you with information about the next steps.

  2. Impacts and EligibilityYour organization must report all disaster-related impacts within 60 days of the scoping meeting. FEMA works with you to make a final list of damages, logically group projects together, conduct site inspections, and collect information and documentation.

  3. Scoping and Costing
    FEMA reviews project descriptions, scopes of work including hazard mitigation plans, and costs for each project and validates all your documentation to ensure its integrity and legal compliance pertaining to all laws, regulations, and executive orders regarding environmental and historic preservation.

  4. Final Reviews
    FEMA finalizes the award agreement: FEMA and the local agency (the Recipient) review and validate your organization’s application and perform another check on completeness and compliance with regulations. Your organization reviews all the terms and conditions and signs the agreement as the Subrecipient.

    Work can be ongoing while this process is happening but there is always a possibility that FEMA may deny reimbursement for some of the work that has already been done or for the way that it has been carried out (e.g., not replacing building materials with the appropriate type on a historic building.

  5. Obligation and Recovery Transition
    FEMA commits funds to your local agency. The funds are then distributed to your organization. Once your organization has signed all its projects’ paperwork, FEMA coordinates with a representative from the local agency (the Recipient) to schedule a “Recovery Transition Meeting.” The purpose of the recovery transition meeting is to transition the primary point of contact for your organization from FEMA field personnel to the Recipient. At the meeting, FEMA will confirm with your organization that all claimed damage is sufficiently and accurately documented, explain deadlines for completion of work and appeal, and ensure that you understand the terms and conditions of its projects.

  6. Post Award Monitoring and Amendments
    Your organization will provide additional documentation as your recovery efforts unfold. You may submit a request to change the scope of work or costs of a project or request additional time to complete the project, which FEMA will review and consider. Your organization will be required to submit quarterly progress reports and may be audited. Stay in touch with your Program Delivery Manager or local point of contact throughout the process.

  7. Final Reconciliation and Closeout
    When the work is complete, your organization coordinates with your local point of contact to formally close your projects and file required reports.


Multiple Application Deadlines: It’s critical to pay attention to the deadlines involved in the intertwined FEMA and SBA processes. They operate as separate entities, yet you must adhere to both to pursue FEMA PA. In order to apply for FEMA PA, you must register with FEMA within 30 days of the presidential disaster declaration. You must also meet the SBA deadlines to apply for a Business Disaster Loan.

File Insurance Claims: Start the process with your insurance company immediately and simultaneously to beginning the FEMA process.

Reporting Deadline: After your “scoping” meeting with your program manager, you must report all disaster-related impacts to FEMA within 60 days, including providing all the required documentation.

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​Disaster Eligibility:

  • Has there been a presidential declaration of an emergency or disaster?

  • Has it been less than 30 days since the disaster was declared?

  • Did the damage to your property occur within the incident period of the declared disaster?

  • Is your organization in one of the designated areas (e.g., county, parish, borough, municipality)?

​Organizational Eligibility:


  • Are you providing noncritical, essential services as defined by FEMA? If yes, this process will also entail an application for an SBA disaster loan as part of the PA process

  • Do you have state or federal tax-exempt status?

  • Are you legally responsible for the building, either as an owner or tenant responsible for repairs?

  • Are costs in excess of $3,300 but less than $131,100 for a “small project”? Large projects are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

  • Do you have cash to cover the costs of the work upfront?


Gather the following documents to submit a Request for Public Assistance (RPA):

  • A current ruling letter from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service granting tax exemption to your organization

  • Documentation from the State substantiating your organization is a non-revenue producing nonprofit entity organized or doing business under state law

You may also have to provide:

  • IRS tax documentation

  • Pre-disaster charter, by laws, and amendments

  • Evidence of longstanding routine (day-to- day) use (e.g., a calendar of activities)

  • Proof of ownership if your organization owns the damaged facility

  • If your organization leases the damaged facility, a copy of the lease or other proof of legal responsibility to maintain it

  • List of services provided in the damaged facility, when, and to whom they are provided

  • Other special requirements for member- ship organizations

  • Other documentation required by your state or territory

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Let’s not mince words here: applying for FEMA Public Assistance is a lot of work and is sometimes considered a last resort for arts nonprofits. The number of hoops you will have to jump through in order to receive reimbursements for narrowly defined projects that are closely monitored and evaluated (to ensure that FEMA funds are being applied appropriately) could be too numerous for the limited capacity of small and mid-sized arts organizations. The process is repetitive and adds significant work to tasks that are already difficult in the aftermath of a disaster. You could be better off focusing on recouping losses via insurance, a disaster loan from the SBA, and loyal donors willing to chip in.

On the other hand, FEMA Public Assistance is not accessed enough by the arts. It is a stream of funds meant to support nonprofits recovering from disaster. Since we are living in unprecedented times of disaster, your need may be big enough to require FEMA Public Assistance. Pursuing FEMA PA for what qualifies as Emergency Work such as debris removal and/or emergency protective measures could be extremely beneficial and less complicated than pursuing PA for your longer-term repairs and replacements (Permanent Work). The process of receiving PA for Permanent Work projects is time consuming and filled with obstacles that are particularly difficult to navigate for nonprofits used to having flexibility, autonomy, and less-detailed systems of accounting.

If you have the capacity and patience to see the FEMA Public Assistance pro- cess through, your organization may benefit from improved organizational systems, which will come in handy when the next disaster hits.

EXAMPLE: Your mid-sized arts organization had its facility leveled by a tornado. FEMA PA Emergency Work could help with your immediate needs to clean up and prevent further damage to whatever is left. As you register for FEMA you will need to file your insurance claim(s). FEMA PA funds will only assist with costs not covered by your insurance. If your organization decides to pursue PA for “Permanent Work” to help repair,

rebuild, or restore your facility, you will also have to apply for a Business Physical Disaster Loan from the SBA. If you are approved for an SBA loan but it doesn’t cover the basic costs of repairing your facility, you may be eligible for FEMA PA funds for whatever your insurance and the SBA loan won’t cover. If your organization decides to turn down the SBA loan, you can only access FEMA PA funds for your costs minus what you would have received from the SBA.


There are many hurdles that your organization may encounter in pursuing FEMA PA. Here are a few to know of in advance:


If your facility was already having issues that may have aided the damage caused by the disaster (e.g., a roof that needed to be replaced), the pre-disaster conditions could be deemed a significant contributing factor in damages and make your PA request ineligible.


Several regulations establish requirements to protect the environment and preserve historic and archaeological resources. FEMA reviews each PA project to ensure that the work complies with applicable federal environmental and historic preservation laws and regulations. As an applicant, your organization is responsible for complying with applicable federal, state, territorial, or tribal environmental or historic preservation laws even if FEMA is not providing PA funding for all of the work.


All private nonprofits are subject to review for eligible and ineligible services. Facilities that provide both eligible and ineligible services are considered mixed-use facilities. FEMA will determine the amount of physical space dedicated to eligible and ineligible services to determine the funding amount. Even if you receive FEMA PA to restore a portion of your facility, your organization will still be responsible for restoring the entire facility if you accept PA funds.


As a reminder, the process of seeking assistance from FEMA for work other than debris removal and hazard mitigation is interrelated with applying for an SBA Business Physical Disaster Loan. For nonprofits that provide noncritical, essential social services, like most arts nonprofits, FEMA only provides PA “Permanent Work” funding for damage-re- lated costs that an SBA loan will not cover. Therefore, arts organizations must also apply for a disaster loan from the SBA and receive a determination in order for FEMA to determine if it will offer any Public Assistance funding. If your organization misses the SBA application deadline, including any SBA-approved extension, you cannot apply for “Permanent Work” funding. If your organization declines an SBA loan, PA funding is limited to the costs that the loan would not have otherwise covered. This applies even when your organization cannot accept the terms of the loan, and the SBA therefore denies the loan, which may occur if your organization does not meet minimum loan requirements.


A lengthy portion of the Public Assistance Program and Policy Guide (PAPPG) gives a detailed explanation of how costs are determined eligible and how labor, particularly contracted labor, must be managed. Adhering to these guidelines could be difficult for smaller arts organizations that are used to using volunteer labor and/or resources they access through board members. These donated resources do not make a project ineligible, but they must be thoroughly tracked. Donated goods and services offset the project amount eligible for funding. Beginning any work before making sure that your organization is in compliance with FEMA procedures could deem your costs ineligible for PA. Refer to PAPPG for thorough guidelines for more information.

More information on Public Assistance for private nonprofits is available in the Public Assistance Program and Policy Guide (PAPPG), including the SBA requirement in Chapter 4, Section II. B.2 Small Business Administration Loan Requirement.


If you lease your facility, FEMA will review the lease agreement to determine legal responsibility for repair of damage caused by the incident. If the lease does not specify either party (owner or tenant) as responsible, FEMA considers the owner of the facility legally responsible for the costs to restore the facility. In this instance, as a lessee, your organization would be ineligible for assistance.


FEMA Public Assistance funds are used to reimburse your organization for expenses related to eligible projects. Once you’re in the system, your project will be continually reviewed to ensure compliance with PA requirements, making sure you are following all protocols and not “double dipping” to receive funds. When your project is complete, you will enter the “closeout” phase of the process and a full evaluation of expenses, project completeness, and adherence to the pre-defined scope of work will be done.

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What does FEMA Public Assistance cover?

FEMA PA can cover debris removal, repair of your facility, repair and/or replacement of building contents, and mitigation of further disaster damage to your facility. FEMA does not provide PA funding for repair of damage caused by deterioration or deferred maintenance.

FEMA requests information and documentation required to determine the eligibility of your damages. Your organization is responsible for providing information and documentation to support that your facilities, work, and costs are eligible based on the applicable laws, regulations, and policies. At a minimum, FEMA usually requires the “who, what, when, where, why, and how much” for each item claimed.

How do you validate damage?

You will be required to supply photos and documentation of the damages your facility incurred as result of the declared disaster. When necessary, to validate damage, your organization may be required to provide:

Pre-incident photographs of the impacted site or facility; and/or

Documentation supporting pre-disaster condition of the facility (e.g. facility maintenance records, inspection/safety reports.)

Do not begin any work – including letting well-meaning volunteers get to work – without thorough documentation of the damages.

What if my insurance doesn't respond within the specified FEMA timeframes?

As long as you have registered with FEMA and started the process of filing your insurance claims, FEMA will continue to assist you with your project. FEMA may be able to provide funding based on the amount of your anticipated insurance proceeds and can adjust the amount if necessary, when actual insurance proceeds are known.

How soon would my nonprofit get funds?

It can be weeks or months. How soon you will receive your reimbursements is

dependent on many factors, but it is not a quick process.

Do I have to pay for everything upfront?

Yes. FEMA PA works by reimbursing your organization for eligible expenses. Your organization must be able to pay project-by-project and await reimbursement. If your application includes multiple projects, you will be paid in installments as you work your way through the repairs.

What if I'm not sure that my nonprofit's services are critical or noncritical or if we're an eligible organization providing noncritical service?

If you are not sure where your nonprofit falls within FEMA categorizations, read the full description in Public Assistance Program and Policy Guide (PAPPG). You can also proceed with the first step in the request process and FEMA or the correspond- ing state agency will tell you where you fall within their eligibility requirements.

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