Understanding FEMA Assistance for Homeowners

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the government relief program for the U.S.  Most people know FEMA as a household name but until your area is hit with a disaster where the damage is so widespread that it is declared a federal disaster (the declaration must come from the governor, a federal agency director or the President); you may not even be aware of the relief programs available.

Once a flood is declared a federal disaster area the government will open FEMA “teleregistration” with a toll-free number for you to call for assistance.  FEMA may also open one or more Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs).

DRCs will give information and take applications for assistance and are usually located in a nearby school or other public building. They will be open during the day and early evening for several days to give people time to come in. Your local new outlets should report locations and hours. In many cases, floods will destroy uninsured property causing losses and needs.  This creates a gap in coverage even if you have flood insurance. FEMA helps people with or without insurance.  If you don’t have insurance go to the DRC first.  If you do have insurance you should file a Proof of Loss form before visiting a DRC. There are six different types of assistance.

Temporary living assistance

The disaster assistance program may provide a safe place to live while you repair damaged homes. For those without insurance can apply for rent assistance or FEMA may provide mobile homes or other temporary living arrangements. If repairs can be done quickly to make your house liveable, the program may provide funds to make those repairs.

Low Interest Disaster Loans

If home-owners or business owners, farmers and others sustain major real estate and personal property damages, they may be eligible for low interest loans through the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA). SBA and FmHA can provide loans even if there is no Presidential disaster declaration.

Like any traditional loan, interest rates and eligibility vary depending on income and financial condition of the applicant.

FEMA Grants

If you don’t get a SBA loan or if you do not have any other financial resource, you can apply for a grant to help with expenses and serious needs. Individual and family grants can cover immediate expenses such as medical treatment, transportation, home repair, replacement of essential personal items, and the cost of protecting your property from the flood.

Income Tax Deductions

If a federal disaster declaration was made, you might quality to file an amended tax return for the past year and get a partial refund for your uninsured casualty losses. Even if no federal declaration is made, you can often deduct your uninsured losses on your next income tax return.

“Floodproofing” Assistance

While restoring a building to its pre-flood condition is important, FEMA is now encouraging repairs and updates to include “floodproofing” to modify the structure to withstand damage from a future flood.   At BHA, our contractor members see thousands of properties a year damaged from major and minor flooding.  There are some homes where the basement floods every year because of the lack of the proper drainage system in the basement and/or the lack of gutters and outside drainage systems around the perimeter of the house.

If you lived through a flood and don’t want to deal with the flood clean-up again, the SBA’s Disaster Assistance Loan program can loan additional money to cover certain floodproofing costs.


Another service FEMA provides after a disaster is crisis counseling.  It is important to cope with problems before they get out of hand.  The Red Cross, as a first responder, supplies information to help cope with the mental stress of living through a disaster.