What should I know about FEMA benefits?

Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org
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FEMA benefits

FEMA benefits after a disaster


What does FEMA do?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is a federal agency that helps people before, during and after disasters. Disasters might include a hurricane, earthquake, or toxic contamination.


The agency’s aim is to help Americans by:

  • Preparing for natural and man-made disasters. Efforts include education and retrofitting buildings to withstand natural disasters.

  • Coordinating disaster assistance in the immediate aftermath or during a disaster. This might include setting up care centers and coordinating the Red Cross. 

  • Providing financial relief and disaster services after a disaster happens. These are often called FEMA benefits. 

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What is a federally declared disaster? 

You are only eligible for FEMA benefits if you are in a federally declared disaster area. A federally declared disaster happens when the President declares that an area affected by a disaster is eligible for federal assistance. This declaration triggers several forms of financial relief for people who live in the affected area. You can find a list of federally declared disasters on the FEMA website. 

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What benefits does FEMA offer after a disaster?

FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program (IHP)

The main FEMA program that provides benefits to individuals in FEMA’s Individual and Households Program (IHP). This program gives financial and direct services to people affected by a disaster. IHP assistance helps people without insurance or those whose insurance does not cover all the losses from the disaster. It is meant to help you meet your basic needs after a disaster. In general, IHP assistance is available for 18 months after the disaster declaration. 


FEMA’s IHP might provide financial help in a variety of ways. This is not money that you will need to repay. You could get assistance paying for:

  • Rent. FEMA might help pay for rent while your house is repaired or while you are waiting to move to a permanent home. 

  • Temporary housing. You might get money to help you pay for a hotel or other short-term housing.

    • In some cases, FEMA may provide temporary housing units (FEMA trailers).

  • Home repair. You might get money to help fix damages to your house. This only covers damages that are not covered by insurance. 

  • Home replacement. If your home is destroyed, you may get money to help you replace or rebuild.

  • Medical/Dental. If you have medical or dental expenses caused by the disaster, you may get money to help you pay these bills. 

  • Funeral. If a loved one died or their grave was disinterred by the disaster, you may be eligible for funeral costs. 

  • Child care. IHP may provide financial assistance if you have increased child care costs because of the disaster.

  • Other necessary items. IHP might provide money to buy things like a generator or a wet/dry vacuum. 

  • Cleaning and removal. IHP may give financial assistance to help you clean areas affected by floodwater. 

  • Critical needs. You might be able to get money to cover other immediate or critical needs that exist because you were forced out of your home.


You are only eligible for some types of assistance if you first apply for, and are denied, a SBA disaster loan. You apply for a SBA loan on the disasterassistance.gov website. This assistance includes:

  • Personal property. You may get money to replace common household items. 

  • Car repair. You may be eligible for money to repair or replace a vehicle damaged during the disaster. 

  • Moving and storage expenses. If you need to move or store items because your home was damaged, IHP might provide assistance.


You are eligible for IHP if:

  • You have losses in a federally declared disaster area,

  • You or a member of your household are:

    • A U.S. citizen,

    • A non-citizen national, or

    • A qualified alien.

  • You have: 

    • Necessary expenses or serious needs as a result of the disaster that not covered by insurance, or

    • You filed an insurance claim but your payout will not be enough to cover your expenses, or

    • Your damage wasn’t covered by insurance or other sources.


Disaster Unemployment Assistance

If your employment has been lost or interrupted because of a major disaster, you may qualify for Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA). You are eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance if:

  • You are unemployed as a direct result of the disaster and 

  • You are not eligible or no longer eligible for Georgia’s Unemployment Insurance.


For example, you are eligible if because of the disaster, you:

  • No longer have a job or place to work;

  • Can’t get to your place of work;

  • You can’t work because your place of work is damaged; or

  • You can’t work because you were injured.


Also, people who are not usually eligible for Unemployment Insurance may be eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance, including:

    • Small business owners,

    • Self-employed,

    • People who work on commission, 

    • Farmers,

    • Farmworkers, and 

    • loggers.


You might also qualify if you need to get a job because a worker in your household died in the disaster.


DUA is administered by the Georgia Department of Labor. 


Disaster Legal Services

Disaster Legal Services (DLS) can provide legal help if you are: 

  • affected by a federally declared disaster, and 

  • low-income.


DLS can help with:

  • Insurance claims for medical bills, loss of property, and loss of life

  • New wills, powers of attorney, and other legal papers lost during the disaster

  • Home-repair contracts and contractors

  • Problems with landlords

  • Proof of home ownership

  • FEMA appeals


Disaster Case Management

Disaster Case Management provides a case manager to help you create a recovery plan after a disaster. The case manager might help you with:

  • Local resources,

  • Guidance on applying for benefits, and 

  • Decision-making priorities. 


Crisis Counseling

Crisis Counseling provides community counseling services to help you recover from the effects of the disaster. 

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What are my rights and responsibilities with FEMA benefits?

If you are eligible for help, you have the right to apply for FEMA assistance. 


If you disagree with the decision on your FEMA application, you have the right to appeal that decision.


You are responsible for providing documents that will help FEMA evaluate your application. 


You are responsible for using the funds appropriately. If you misuse funds, you may be required to return them. You may also be disqualified from other assistance.

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How do I apply for FEMA assistance?

Before you apply

Before you apply, FEMA recommends that you:

  • Take pictures of the damages to your house and property,

  • Make a thorough list of all your damaged or lost items,

  • File a claim with your insurance company. Before you can get FEMA help, you have to file an insurance claim (if you have insurance).


Documents needed

To apply, you will need:

  • Proof of ID,

  • Proof that you rent or own the property that was damaged,

  • An insurance determination letter. 



You can apply for FEMA’s IHP assistance or check your application status:

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What happens after I apply for FEMA assistance?

After you apply for FEMA assistance:

  • Within 10 days of your application you will get a phone call from a FEMA Inspector. 

    • Have your registration number on hand. The inspector will ask about the damage.

    • If you reported minimal damage to you will not get a call. You will get a letter informing you of your next steps.

  • Within 10 days of the inspector’s call, you will be sent a decision letter.

    • If you are eligible for assistance, your letter will tell you the amount and how it will be used.

  • You will get any award money via:  

    • U.S. Treasury Check or 

    • Direct deposit. 

  • You may also be referred to the U.S. Small Business Administration for a low-interest loan. You DO NOT have to apply for this loan. However, you will not be eligible for some FEMA assistance if you do not apply.

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How do I appeal a FEMA decision?

Once a decision is made on your application, you will get an eligibility notification letter. If you disagree with the decision, you have the right to appeal.

  • You must appeal within 60 days of the date on your eligibility letter.

  • You must include with your appeal:

    • Your full name. Your FEMA Application Number and Disaster Number. Your pre-disaster primary address. Your current address and phone number

    • A written statement that explains why the decision is wrong.

    • Copies of any documents that support your statement.

  • Send the appeal:

    • By mail. FEMA, PO BOX 10044, Hyattsville, MD 20782-8055

    • By fax. Attn: FEMA Appeals Officer, 1-800-827-8112

  • You will get a decision on your appeal within 90 days. 

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How do I file a claim for Disaster Unemployment Assistance?

Apply for Disaster Unemployment Assistance at any Georgia Department of Labor career center


You will need to bring:

  • A valid government-issued picture ID,

  • Your Social Security number or alien registration number, and

  • If you are self-employed, proof of earnings.

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How can I find Disaster Legal Help, Disaster Case Management and Crisis Counseling programs?

To find these programs in your area, contact the FEMA helpline at:

  • 1-800-621-3362 (711 or Video Relay Service available) 

  • 1-800-462-7585 (TTY)

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More info


Last Review and Update: Apr 04, 2022
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