When a major disaster occurs in the United States, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) plays a critical role leading response and recovery efforts. After disaster strikes, state, territorial, or tribal authorities will determine whether or not the response and recovery needs exceed their resources. If they do, they can work with FEMA to request a presidential disaster declaration, which activates disaster assistance funds and services that would otherwise not be available.
FEMA’s disaster recovery programs are split into two streams—“Public Assistance” and “Individual Assistance.” Through these programs, FEMA makes funding available to repair damaged homes, provide temporary shelter, and fund state and local agencies to deliver other critical and essential services. In assessing the needs of the region, FEMA may decide to activate one or both programs, or only certain parts of a program.
For more information on how a presidential disaster declaration occurs and the process for making FEMA funds available to communities, see: fema.gov/disaster/how-declared
In this guide we cover the following FEMA assistance sources that may be useful to artists, cultural workers, and arts nonprofits:
STARTING THE APPLICATION PROCESS
The first step to applying for FEMA assistance is to register and create an online account. This can be done fairly easily and quickly with basic information. Doing so creates an account you can use to apply for specific forms of assistance. You will have to upload more detailed information to determine if you are eligible for different kinds of FEMA assistance, but do not wait until you have all these materials to get your name and information in the FEMA system. You may see the word “register” used in FEMA materials to indicate this first step of the application process. It is fine to take this first step right away even before you know exactly what you need and what’s available.
Apply with FEMA immediately after a declared disaster. The period to apply for FEMA Individual Assistance is generally sixty (60) days from the date the disaster was declared. For Public Assistance, the deadline is generally thirty (30) days from the date of the disaster declaration.
Start the application process for FEMA disaster assistance through the online portal at DisasterAssistance.gov, via FEMA’s free mobile app, by calling FEMA toll-free at 800- 621-3362, or at a Disaster Recovery Center. If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability and use a Text Telephone (TTY), you can call 800-462-7585. If you use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), you can call 800-621-3362.
After you apply for disaster assistance through FEMA, you can set up an online account through DisasterAssistance.gov, where you can receive correspondence from FEMA, upload documents to your file, and check the status of your application. If you have a trusted friend or family member who can receive mail for you, you could also use their address as your mailing address, if needed.
Arts organizations that qualify as eligible private nonprofit organizations (known as PNPs within FEMA) will apply through the Public Assistance Online Grants Portal. Applicants can use the Public Assistance Grants Portal to register for and update an applicant pro- file, submit a “Request for Public Assistance,” and upload documents.
FEMA DISASTER RECOVERY CENTERS (DRCS)
Immediately following a presidential disaster declaration, FEMA may open Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) that act as temporary offices where you can get information about disaster resources and assistance with relief applications. DRCs are places where individuals can go for more information about FEMA programs, other programs intertwined with FEMA, and other resources. DRCs also work with Voluntary Agency Liaisons (VALs) who help provide links to other community services and partners. If you have no power, mailbox, or Internet access, the DRC can be an extremely helpful touchstone following a disaster. DRCs are accessible and equipped to accommodate disaster survivors who need disability-related communication aids.
An inspection for eligible damages is likely to be a part of every FEMA process. FEMA inspections are free. If someone approaches you about providing a FEMA inspection for a fee, it is likely a scam. Do not pay for an inspection.