What Is Disaster Assistance?

Disaster assistance is money or direct financial assistance available to individuals, households, and businesses in an area whose property has been damaged or destroyed in a declared disaster area by the President, the Governor, or by a Federal agency, when Individual Assistance is included in the declaration for losses not covered by insurance and whose losses are not fully compensated by insurance or other recoveries, such as grants. Disaster assistance is meant to help with necessary expenses that cannot be covered in other ways. This type of assistance is not intended to restore your damaged property to its original condition.

Some housing assistance funds are available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Individuals and Households Program (IHP). The IHP provides grants that do not need to be repaid. Other disaster assistance from the Federal government is in the form of loans administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and must be repaid. SBA disaster loans are the primary source of money to pay for repair or replacement costs not fully compensated by insurance or other recoveries. The loans are available to homeowners, renters, businesses of all sizes and private, non-profit organizations following a declared disaster.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

FEMA is the federal agency that is responsible for administering and coordinating federal disaster relief and assistance. The agency is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and has a number of programs and services available to assist disaster survivors. One of these programs is the Individuals and Households Program (IHP). This program provides assistance to eligible applicants whose property has been damaged or destroyed and whose losses are not covered by insurance.

Housing Needs

  • Temporary Housing (a place to live for a limited period of time): Funds are available for eligible applicants to rent a place to live, or housing may be provided by the government when rental properties are not available
  • Repair: Funds are available to eligible applicants to repair damage from the disaster to their primary residence that is not covered by insurance or other programs (such as SBA). The goal for these funds is to make the damaged home safe, sanitary, and functional. NOTE: FEMA's repair assistance will not pay to return a home to its condition before the disaster.

Repairs can include:

  • Structural parts of a home (foundation, outside walls, roof)
  • Windows, doors, floors, walls, ceilings, cabinetry
  • Septic or sewage system
  • Well or other water system
  • Heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system
  • Utilities (electrical, plumbing and gas system)
  • Entrance and exit ways from the home, including privately owned access roads
  • Blocking, leveling and anchoring of a mobile home and reconnecting or resetting its sewer, water, electrical and fuel lines and tanks
  • Replacement: Funds are available to eligible applicants to replace their home destroyed in the disaster that is not covered by insurance or other programs (such as SBA). The goal is to help the homeowner with the cost of replacing their destroyed home.
  • Permanent Housing Construction: Money is available for the construction of a home or FEMA will provide direct assistance with the construction. This type of help only occurs in insular areas or remote locations specified by FEMA, where no other type of housing assistance is possible. Construction shall follow current minimal local building codes and standards where they exist, or minimal acceptable construction industry standards in the area. Construction will aim toward average quality, size and capacity, taking into consideration the needs of the occupant. A flood insurance purchase and maintenance requirement may be placed on the home if the home is in a Special Flood Hazard Area.

The following is required to qualify for housing assistance:

  • Losses must have occurred in an area declared as a federal disaster area by the President and the declaration includes Individual Assistance
  • You have filed for insurance benefits and the damages are not covered by your insurance or your insurance settlement is insufficient to cover your losses
  • You or someone who lives with you is a citizen of the United States, a non-citizen national, or a qualified alien
  • The home in the disaster area is your primary residence and where you were living at the time of the disaster
  • Your home is unlivable; you cannot enter your home due to the disaster or your home requires repairs because of damage from the disaster
  • You do not have other, adequate rent-free housing available (for example, a vacation home or unused rental property)

For more information on FEMA's current requirements for housing assistance, visit their website at https://www.disasterassistance.gov/get-assistance/forms-of-assistance/4471

Other Needs Assistance (ONA) Program

If you are a homeowner or renter and SBA determines you cannot afford a loan, SBA may automatically refer you to FEMA's Other Needs Assistance (ONA) program. The ONA program is a safety net available only to individuals and families and is not available to businesses. It is intended to help meet essential needs not met by any other form of assistance, including SBA disaster loans. Please note that if you have received an SBA disaster loan application, you cannot be referred to the ONA program unless you return your application to SBA and SBA determines you cannot afford a loan. Money is available for necessary expenses and serious needs caused by the disaster that cannot be met through other forms of disaster assistance. This includes medical, dental, funeral, personal property, transportation, moving and storage, and other expenses that are authorized by law. There is a maximum grant amount set by Congress for each fiscal year and for more information on the maximum grant amount, contact FEMA at 1-800-621-3362.

An applicant does not apply for the Other Needs Assistance (ONA) program but is referred for assistance based on their ability to secure a loan from the SBA. In Presidentially declared disasters, if SBA cannot approve your application, or cannot make you a loan for all your losses, in most cases they will refer you to the ONA program for possible additional assistance.

ONA can be provided for disaster-related serious needs in five categories:

  • Repair or Replacement of Personal Property: Money may be available to repair or replace items damaged or destroyed as a result of the disaster that are not covered by insurance or SBA. FEMA will not pay for all damaged or destroyed personal property. A flood insurance purchase and maintenance requirement may be placed on the personal property if the property is in a Special Flood Hazard Area.

Repair and replacement may include:

  • Clothing
  • Household items (room furnishings, appliances)
  • Specialized tools of job-related protective clothing and equipment
  • Necessary educational materials (such as schoolbooks)
  • Clean-up items (such as wet/dry vacuum, air purifier, dehumidifier)
  • Medical and dental expenses
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Transportation: Money to address the cost of repairing and/or replacing a vehicle that is no longer usable because of disaster-related damage
  • Medical and Dental Expenses: Money to address the cost of medical treatment or the purchase of medical equipment required because of physical injuries received as a result of the disaster
  • Funeral and Burial Costs: Money to address the cost of funeral services, burial or cremation and other funeral expenses related to a death caused by the disaster
  • Other Items: The state and FEMA can agree to pay for specific disaster-related costs that are not listed above. Some examples are generators, moving and storage expenses, and the cost of a National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Group Flood Insurance Certificate. Medical/Dental, Funeral/Burial Expenses, and NFIP are not eligible under SBA, therefore may be addressed directly by FEMA without loan consideration

FEMA also offers financial assistance under specific qualification programs.

To qualify for Ither Needs Assistance, the following must be true:

  • Your losses must have occurred in an area declared as a federal disaster area by the President and the declaration includes Individual Assistance
  • You have filed for insurance benefits and the damages are not covered by your insurance
  • You or someone who lives with you is a citizen of the United States, a non-citizen national, or a qualified alien
  • You have necessary expenses or serious needs because of the disaster
  • You have accepted assistance from all other sources for which you are eligible, such as insurance proceeds or SBA disaster loans


How Do I Register with FEMA?

To register with FEMA, call toll free at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or register online at http://www.disasterassistance.gov For the hearing impaired, the TTY number is 800-462-7585. Be ready to provide them with the following information:

  • Your Social Security number
  • Your current and pre-disaster address
  • Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) Direct Deposit Information (Optional)
  • A phone number where you can be reached
  • Any insurance information
  • Your total household annual income


DisasterAssistance.gov is a secure, user-friendly U.S. Government web portal that consolidates disaster assistance information in one place. If you need assistance following a presidentially declared disaster-which has been designated for individual assistance-you can now go to DisasterAssistance.gov to register online. Local resource information to help keep citizens safe during an emergency is also available. Currently, 17 U.S. Government agencies, which sponsor almost 60 forms of assistance, contribute to the portal.

DisasterAssistance.gov speeds the application process by feeding common data to multiple online applications. Application information is shared only with those agencies you identify and is protected by the highest levels of security.

Through DisasterAssistance.gov, you can:

  • Determine the number and forms of assistance you may be eligible to receive by answering a brief series of questions or start the individual assistance registration process immediately
  • Apply for FEMA assistance and be referred to the U.S. Small Business Administration for disaster loans through online applications
  • Choose to have your Social Security benefits directed to a new address
  • Access your federal student loan account information
  • Receive referral information on forms of assistance that do not yet have online applications
  • Access a call center in the event you do not have Internet access to ensure you can still register for assistance
  • Check the progress and status of your applications online
  • Identify resources and services for individuals, house­holds and businesses needing disaster assistance during all phases of an emergency situation
  • Identify resources to help locate family members and pets
  • Access assistance from the Department of State if you are affected by a disaster while traveling abroad
  • Find information on disaster preparedness and response

More than 800,000 individuals needed emergency assistance, such as housing, food and clothing, after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. Executive Order 13411 was issued in response to this disaster and the confusion and frustration people encountered when they asked for help from multiple federal programs. The executive order requires the government to simplify the process of identifying and applying for disaster assistance.

DisasterAssistance.gov has been developed to realize this vision and will continue to expand to help disaster survivors.

Another great resource of information offered by FEMA is the booklet "Are You Ready? An in-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness,, This booklet contains in-depth information on what to do before, during, and after many different types of disasters and can be ordered or downloaded here.

Is Disaster Help Available if I Have Insurance?

Possibly. If you have not already contacted your insurance agent to file a claim, please do so as soon as possible. Failure to file a claim with your insurance company may affect your eligibility for assistance. After filing a claim, if any of the following situations occur, FEMA may be able to provide some assistance:

  • Your insurance settlement is delayed. Delayed means a decision on your insurance settlement has been delayed longer than 30-days from the time you filed the claim. If a decision on your insurance settlement has been delayed, you will need to write a letter to FEMA explaining the circumstances. Include documentation from the insurance company proving that you filed the claim. If you filed your claim over the telephone, include the claim number, date when you applied, and the estimated time of how long it will take to receive your settlement. Any help awarded to you by FEMA would be considered an advance and any duplication of assistance must be repaid to FEMA once an insurance settlement is received
  • Your insurance settlement is insufficient to meet your disaster-related needs. If you have received the maximum settlement from your insurance and still have an unmet disaster-related need, you will need to write a letter to FEMA indicating the unmet disaster-related need. Include documentation from your insurance company for review
  • You have exhausted the Additional Living Expenses (ALE) provided by your insurance company. If you have received the maximum settlement from your insurance for Additional Living Expenses (Loss of Use) and still need help with your disaster-related temporary housing, write to FEMA explaining your continued temporary housing need. Include documentation to prove use of ALE from your insurance, and a permanent housing plan
  • You are unable to locate rental resources in your area. The FEMA Helpline has a list of rental resources in the disaster area. If no resources are available in your county, then the Helpline agent can provide you with resources in an adjacent county

You have up to twelve (12) months from the date you registered with FEMA to submit your insurance information for review. By law, FEMA cannot provide funds to individuals or households for losses that are covered by insurance. For more information on FEMA and the programs they offer, go to: https://www.fema.gov/assistance/individual or call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362)

State Supplemental Grant Program (SSGP)

The State of California State Supplemental Grant Program (SSGP) provides assistance to eligible individuals and households whose property has been damaged or destroyed as a result of a disaster declared by the President and when the FEMA IHP has been implemented. The SSGP is administered by the California Department of Social Services (COSS) and is a program that may supplement the amount of assistance received by FEMA's IHP. To be eligible for SSGP assistance, you must have applied to FEMA for IHP, received the maximum IHP grant, and still have additional eligible losses as identified by the FEMA inspection. SSGP may be equal to the difference between the FEMA IHP grant awarded and the federally eligible appraised loss, not to exceed the maximum SSGP grant. If you are eligible for consideration, you will automatically be transmitted from FEMA to SSGP - there is no separate application process for SSGP. SSGP will not provide funds that result in duplication of benefits and eligible grant assistance does not have to be repaid. The SSGP is 100 percent State funded. If your application has been transmitted for consideration of SSGP assistance, you may contact COSS at 1-800-759-6807.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Disaster Loans

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) makes federally subsidized loans to repair or replace primary residences, personal property and businesses that sustain damages not fully compensated by insurance or other recoveries.

Home Disaster Loans

Disaster loans up to $200,000 are available to home- owners to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate. Homeowners and renters are eligible for up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed personal property.

Physical Disaster Loans To Business Owners

Businesses of any size and private, non-profit organizations may borrow up to $2 million to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery and equipment, inventory, and other business assets.

SBA can also lend additional funds to homeowners and businesses to help with the cost of making improvements that protect, prevent, or minimize the same type of disaster damage from occurring in the future.

Economic Injury Disaster Loans

For small businesses and most private, non-profit organizations of any size, SBA offers Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) to help meet working capital needs caused by the disaster. EIDL assistance is available regardless of whether the business suffered any property damage.

For many individuals the SBA disaster loan program is the primary form of disaster assistance. Disaster loan information and application forms are also available from SBA's Customer Service Center by calling SBA toll free at 1-800-659-2955, e-mailing disastercustomerservice@sba.gov, or visiting SBA's web site at www.sba.gov/services/disasterassistance. Hearing impaired individuals may call 1-800-877-8339. Applicants may apply online using the Electronic Loan Application (ELA) via SBA's secure Web site here.

Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA)

This program provides unemployment benefits to those who have lost their jobs as a result of a disaster in a declared area by the President and Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) is included. You must register with the California Employment Development Department to receive benefits. For more information regarding DUA, call 1-800-300-5616 or visit: www.edd.ca.gov/Unemployment/Disaster_Unemploy mentAssistance.htm

Special Fee Waivers and Filing Extensions

As a result of a disaster, the Governor may issue an Executive Order that allows special fee waivers and filing extensions for replacing important government records (i.e., birth and death, certificates, identification cards, etc.).

For additional information regarding a specific disaster, contact the following departments directly:

  • California Department of Public Health: 916-445-2684, or visit the website here
  • Department of Motor Vehicles: 1-800-777-0133, or visit the website here
  • Franchise Tax Board: 1-800-852-5711, or visit the website here
  • Board of Equalization: 1-800-400-7115, or visit the website here
  • Department of Housing and Community Development: 800-952-8536, or visit the website here

Legal Services

When the President declares a disaster, FEMA/EPR, through an agreement with the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association, provides free legal assistance to disaster victims. Legal advice is limited to cases that will not produce a fee (i.e., these attorneys work without payment). Cases that may generate a fee are turned over to the local lawyer referral service.

The assistance that participating lawyers provide typically includes:

  • Assistance with insurance claims (life, medical, property, etc.)
  • Counseling on landlord/tenant problems
  • Assisting in consumer protection matters, remedies, and procedures
  • Replacement of wills and other important legal documents destroyed in a major disaster

Disaster legal services are provided to low-income individuals who, prior to or because of the disaster, are unable to secure legal services adequate to meet their needs as a consequence of a major disaster.

Tax Relief

In the event of a disaster, various forms of tax relief are available.

Special Tax Considerations

Taxpayers who have sustained a casualty loss from a declared disaster may deduct that loss on the federal income tax return for the year in which the casualty actually occurred, or elect to deduct the loss on the tax return for the preceding tax year. In order to deduct a casualty loss, the amount of the loss must exceed 10 percent of the adjusted gross income for the tax year by at least $100. If the loss was sustained from a federally declared disaster, the taxpayer may choose which of those two tax years provides the better tax advantage.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can expedite refunds due to taxpayers in a federally declared disaster area. An expedited refund can be a relatively quick source of cash, does not need to be repaid, and does not need an Individual Assistance declaration. It is available to any taxpayer in a federally declared disaster area.

California Disaster Relief Tax Provisions

(FTB Pub. 1034)

The following information was provided by the State of California - Franchise Tax Board website and can be viewed at https://www.ftb.ca.gov/forms/misc/1034.pdf

Casualty and Disaster Loss Rules

California law generally follows federal law regarding the treatment of losses incurred as a result of a casualty or a disaster. To qualify as a disaster loss for federal purposes, the President of the United States must declare the area in which the disaster occurred as a disaster area, eligible for federal assistance under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. This includes a major disaster or emergency declaration under the Act. A pronouncement by the Governor of California declaring an area as a disaster or emergency area is not enough to qualify as a disaster loss for federal purposes.

A casualty loss occurs when your property is lost or damaged due to an earthquake, fire, flood, or similar event that is sudden, unexpected, or unusual. You usually qualify for a casualty loss deduction for tax purposes when insurance or other reimbursements do not repay you for damage to your property. For California purposes, your casualty loss becomes a disaster loss when both of the following occur:

  • You sustain the loss in an area the President of the United States or the Governor of California designates as a disaster area. (Note: If only the Governor declares a disaster, subsequent state legislation is required to activate the disaster provision for California tax purposes.)
  • You sustain the loss because of the declared disaster

Special California tax rules apply to disaster losses. You can claim a disaster loss in the taxable year the disaster occurred or in the taxable year immediately before the disaster occurred. The advantage of claiming a disaster loss in the prior year is that the loss will generally reduce the prior year tax liability generating a refund that the CA Franchise Tax Board (FTB) can quickly issue.

For more detailed information, refer to the publication, Disaster Loss - How To Claim A State Tax Deduction, (FTB Pub 1034) or order one by calling 1-800-852-5711. To learn more about deducting casualty and disaster losses, see IRS Publication 547 or contact the Internal Revenue Service at 1-800-829-1040.

Declared or Non-Declared Disaster Assistance

There are organizations that will assist you when an area has not been declared a disaster area. The two most recognized organizations are The American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

The American Red Cross

Since its founding in 1881 by visionary leader Clara Barton, the American Red Cross has been the nation's premier emergency response organization. For more than 125 years, the mission of the American Red Cross has been to help people prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters and other emergencies. As part of a worldwide movement that offers neutral humanitarian care to the victims of war, the American Red Cross is chartered by Congress to provide domestic and international disaster relief and communications between members of the armed forces and their families. Over the years, the organization has expanded its services, always with the aim of preventing and relieving suffering. Today, in addition to disaster relief, the American Red Cross offers compassionate services in five other areas: (1) community services that help the needy; (2) support and comfort for military members and their families; (3) the collection, processing and distribution of lifesaving blood and blood products; (4) educational programs that promote health and safety; and

The Red Cross is one of the primary resources for persons needing disaster assistance. In the event you lose your home or are displaced as a result of a natural or human-caused disaster, the Red Cross may be able to assist you with meeting immediate disaster caused needs including shelter, food, clothing and medication as well as guidance, advocacy and counseling. It also may be able to provide referrals to other resources and local programs that will help you with your recovery. If requested by first responders (such as police or fire), the Red Cross responds immediately after a disaster. If the Red Cross is not on scene, you can request the fire department call it.

The Red Cross can be reached at 1-800-733-2767. For more information about a local Red Cross chapter near you, please visit its website at www.redcross.org.

The Salvation Army

Federal law has reaffirmed The Salvation Army's authority to provide disaster assistance with the passage of the Robert T. Stafford Emergency and Disaster Assistance Act. This Act specifically names The Salvation Army as a relief and disaster assistance organization. Several factors guide The Salvation Army's role in responding to disasters.

The Salvation Army's Goals in Emergency Disaster Services

When The Salvation Army initiates a disaster relief operation, the first aim is to meet the basic needs of those who have been affected, both survivors and first responders (such as firefighters). Even at this level, The Salvation Army's workers are ministering in that they serve as a means of expressing God's love. The Salvation Army's goals are to offer material comfort, physical comfort, emotional comfort, and spiritual comfort.

The Salvation Army's Emergency Disaster Service Activities

The Salvation Army provides numerous disaster relief services which include immediate emergency assistance and long-term recovery help. The following are some of the services they provide:

Emergency Shelter

When necessary, The Salvation Army provides shelter in a facility identified by the local emergency management personnel. These facilities include:

Municipal shelters, such as schools

  • Salvation Army buildings
  • Other facilities that are pre-determined by authorities

Cleanup and Restoration

The Salvation Army supports people as they restore and rebuild after a disaster. Cleanup and restoration services include:

  • Distribution of cleanup supplies such as mops, brooms, buckets, shovels, detergents, and tarps
  • Coordination of volunteer rebuilding teams
  • Set up of warehouses to distribute reconstruction supplies such as lumber and sheetrock

Spiritual and Emotional Care

The Salvation Army provides spiritual comfort and emotional support to disaster victims and emergency workers coping with the stress of a disaster. Salvation Army counselors, who are often ordained as clergy (officers), may simply offer a "ministry of presence," but often people who know about The Salvation Army as representatives of God may ask for prayer or help from the Bible. At Ground Zero following 9/11, one of the most critical ministries of The Salvation Army was counseling firefighters, police, and morgue workers who were struggling with the enormity of the tragedy. Examples of spiritual and emotional care include:

  • Comforting the injured and bereaved
  • Conducting funeral and memorial services
  • Providing chaplaincy service to disaster workers and emergency management personnel

Disaster Social Services

The Salvation Army provides direct financial assistance to disaster victims through a system of trained caseworkers. This assistance is available for:

  • Essential living supplies, such as food, clothing, medicine, bedding, or baby products
  • Emergency housing needs
  • Disaster-related medical or funeral expenses

For more information about the Salvation Army, visit their website here or call 1-800-SAL-ARMY (725-2769).

Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD)

National VOAD is a nonprofit membership organization founded in 1970 in response to Hurricane Camille that struck the Gulf Coast in 1969. Members of National VOAD include national nonprofit organizations whose mission includes programs either in disaster preparedness, response and/or recovery. While not a direct service provider, National VOAD strives to support its members who are on the forefront of disaster response and recovery in communities throughout the United States. Organizations coordinate, cooperate and communicate with one another for increased collaboration in order to better assist disaster survivors and their communities. Since its founding, state and local equivalents of VOAD have emerged following this same model. San Mateo County’s Department of Emergency Management works with Thrive Alliance to locally coordinate non-profits and community-based organizations during emergencies. For a comprehensive list of California's Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), go to www.calvoad.org.