How to Navigate FEMA for the Upcoming Hurricane Season


Residents’ homes and possessions are submerged in floodwater following significant rainstorms in Coldspring on May 4. Photo Credit: Callaghan O'Hare for The Texas Tribune
Residents’ homes and possessions are submerged in floodwater following significant rainstorms in Coldspring on May 4. Photo Credit: Callaghan O’Hare for The Texas Tribune
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BY NINA BANKS / THE TEXAS TRIBUNE

The recent heavy rain across the state serves as a preamble for the upcoming hurricane season, which starts Saturday. And it’s supposed to be a busy one.

Texans should know that should severe weather damage their homes this season — they can apply for federal assistance.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts an 85% chance for an “above-average” season, with the potential for between four to seven Category 3 hurricanes, with winds averaging 111-129 miles per hour.

amage incurred from hurricane season is often inevitable, but programs like the Federal Emergency Management Agency can make handling damage afterwards easier. FEMA provides financial assistance to communities rebuilding after a disaster when a disaster declaration request from the governor is approved by the U.S. president. However, the FEMA application process is an extensive process that requires verifying information, documenting damages and coordination with insurance claims.

Here is a guide on how to navigate applying for FEMA assistance.

What types of assistance may I receive?

There are several types of assistance, these include:

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  • Funds for a rental or temporary housing situation
  • Funds to repair damages and to restore your property to a functional state
  • Funds for a replacement home or property (under rare conditions)
  • Funds for non-housing assistance, such as transportation or funeral needs

It is important to remember that FEMA cannot cover the entire cost of damages. While most forms of assistance are not required to be paid back, some assistance is provided through loans. You can communicate with FEMA at 1-800-621-3362 to understand what assistance you receive and the terms of the assistance.

Am I eligible to receive assistance?

Before applying to FEMA, check to see if you are eligible to receive assistance and have the necessary paperwork to proceed. To be eligible, people must be a United States citizen, non-citizen national (from a U.S. territory not considered part of the U.S.) or a qualified non-citizen, such as a legal permanent resident or refugee, and provide a social security number. Your identity will be verified through public records. If FEMA is not able to verify your identity through public records, they may request supporting documents, such as a marriage license or passport.

I need assistance, now what?

Documenting all damages as soon as possible is key to post-disaster recovery. Make sure to take pictures and keep receipts of all damage incurred as it may be necessary information for an insurance company or FEMA to assist you.

Individuals with insurance should first file a claim through their existing policies. People cannot receive disaster and insurance assistance for the same damages. Doing so would be considered insurance fraud, according to FEMA.

Filing a claim and applying for FEMA should be done as soon as possible to ensure the quickest response. All settlements from your insurance provider should be sent to FEMA to prevent duplicate coverage. Individuals without insurance will have an agent inspect the damages to their property.

What should I expect during the application process?

To start your application, you may either call the toll-free number 1-800-621-3362 or register online at fema.gov. You will then be asked to provide addresses, income, damages to property and any housing needs. An application number will then be provided to locate your file. You may also create an account for the FEMA Disaster Assistance Center online to track the status of your application, upload necessary files and communicate with FEMA.

A FEMA inspector will arrange to check the damages and verify that an eligible citizen is present at your property a few days after applying. After further evaluation, you should receive a check or direct deposit with instructions on how to use your assistance.

What can an SBA loan do for me?

People in disaster areas may work with the U.S. Small Business Administration, regardless of if they are a small business owner or not. Homeowners may receive upwards of $200,000 and businesses may receive upwards of $1.5 million in loans, which means the borrower has to eventually repay the government.

Who can help me get assistance?

There are several groups on the ground in Texas that can assist in providing support, from helping you receive medical care to help with insurance claims. FEMA may match you with a local group to assist you in your recovery.

For additional information on preparing for natural disasters, check out this guide.

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