FEMA money and relief programs you may not know about

In some areas, flooding is finally starting to recede after Hurricane Ian. That means people are able to get back into their homes and assess the damage. It also means more people are applying for disaster relief with FEMA.

"I found it really, really easy. Now I don’t know if some of the elderly people would find it easy. They don’t know how to use computers. They don’t go online," Denise Kline said of the application process.

Kline’s house flooded, as did her mother’s apartment. 

"I was there today, it was all moldy and I almost got sick," she said. "I got out some of her bigger electronics, but everything else was a complete loss. All of her photos."

Kline says she was able to apply for FEMA assistance on her mother’s behalf. Other people, like Katie Towery, didn’t find the process so easy.

"My last status said I wasn’t qualified for any relief, probably because they can’t verify the address. The agent only suggested I get a loan through SBA, said Towery.

Jann Tracey, a spokesperson for FEMA, says the process is a bit complicated, but it can be done.

"I always say, you have to dot every I and cross every T. They’re government forms, you know how the government works," explained Tracey.

You have to have your social security number, plus information about your insurance, your bank, and the damage. 

"There are always things that can slow down the process. Generally speaking, most of the time, it’s because people don’t have the documentation they need. That is the biggest problem – particularly in a flood, people lose everything," said Tracey.


There are some workarounds. 

For instance, if you don’t have a copy of your insurance papers, you might instead be able to provide your insurance agent’s name. 

And if your county wasn’t listed as a place approved for disaster relief – check again.

That list is expanding, and FEMA still has crews out assessing damage and adding to the list. 

If you are having trouble filling out those forms, FEMA says your best bet is to give them a call or show up in person to one of their relief centers so you can have someone help walk you through the process.

One of the other benefits of doing that is the person you’re talking with may fill you in on benefits you didn’t even exist. 

The agency has a number of benefits people might not know about – like money to help people pay for rent at a new home, including the security deposit and utilities. That starts at two months of payment and can be extended from there.

Towery feels that’s only partial relief.

"It would be really helpful for short-term," she said. "It’s not a long-term decision or anything. For me, how expensive rent just increased. It’s $1500 minimum for a one-bedroom now if you go somewhere safe."

There’s other relief for renters too, though, as Tracey explained:

"If the property was damaged, and you had, for example, furniture or your clothing, or perhaps food in the refrigerator – the refrigerator itself belongs to the landlord, but the food belongs to you."

FEMA also just got approved for a program that pays for people to stay in hotels rather than shelters. 

Another benefit: if your primary mode of transportation was damaged, FEMA will help pay for repairs or even a new car.

"We care about people having transportation. That’s what they need and that’s what we cover – essential items," said Tracey.

There’s money for glasses and hearing aids. You can get $300 for cleaning supplies. There’s even $700 for immediate, critical, life-sustaining items.

"There are so many programs within FEMA. That’s why it’s always good to go a disaster recovery center where you can talk with someone one-on-one," said Tracey.