Seeking FEMA Assistance


As community service organizations, our customers fulfill a vitally important role in the communities they serve. That's why it's in everybody's best interest to get them operating in as full capacity as possible following a disaster. Among other sources of funding and assistance, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance can be an important resource in making sure this happens. But the process of seeking such assistance can be complicated.

This document was designed to help demystify that process.

Who Qualifies?
FEMA's disaster assistance falls into three broad categories: (1) Individual Assistance, (2) Public Assistance, and (3) Hazard Mitigation Assistance. For the vast majority of our customers, only the Public Assistance Program applies.

In order to qualify for the Public Assistance Program, an organization needs to be a private nonprofit organization (PNP) providing educational, medical, emergency, utility, custodial care, or certain irrigation services. Essential governmental services which may be eligible include:

  • Community centers
  • Homeless shelters
  • Senior citizen centers
  • Low income housing
  • Food assistance programs
  • Day services for children and adults with special needs

Facilities located on Indian reservations automatically qualify. Any eligible PNP will need to have an effective ruling letter from the Internal Revenue Service granting tax exemption under Section 501©, (d), or (e) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Even if an organization meets the functions indicative of a qualifying PNP, it's important to also note that there is a list of categories of facility that are not eligible for FEMA assistance. This list includes:

  • Recreational facilities
  • Conference facilities
  • Facilities for advocacy or lobbying
  • Facilities for religious service or education

Because some of our customers may be considered “recreational facilities”, it is likely that some of our customers will qualify while others will not.

What about insurance?
The presence or absence of insurance coverage is an essential consideration of the Public Assistance Program. This comes into play in two main areas:

1) FEMA does not provide disaster assistance for costs that are covered by insurance. If your organization has flood insurance, for example, then you need to submit a claim in the event of a flood.

2) FEMA requires that any qualifying PNP subsequently procures and maintains insurance on the facilities repaired or replaced with FEMA funding. So if you qualify for FEMA assistance following a disaster because you were uninsured, you'll need to plan on getting insurance coverage once you are back up on your feet.

When pursuing FEMA assistance, organizations are required to submit copies of all insurance documentation to the FEMA PAC Crew Leader assigned to the area. This includes the insurance policy with all data, declarations, endorsements, exclusions, and other attachments . The documentation submitted will be used to determine the amount of insurance coverage that will be applied to a qualifying PNP’s repair or replacement costs.

“Critical” versus “non-critical” services: Why does it matter?
FEMA differentiates the losses it covers under two main categories: critical and non-critical government services. Typically, all of the services provided by Redwoods' customers would be considered non-critical government services. This means they do not qualify for immediate FEMA assistance, which is reserved for critical government services such as emergency services, emergency medical care; and education.

In order to apply for FEMA assistance, organizations offering non-critical government services must also apply for a low interest U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loan—and FEMA will only provide funding for costs not covered by that loan. The SBA loan application must be made at the same time that FEMA assistance is pursued, and the loan application documents can be found here.

Being Prepared, Before You Need It
Applying for FEMA assistance is by no means easy, and it is usually a last resort for costs that cannot be covered through insurance, SBA loans or other resources. However, last resorts are there for a reason. The work you do is indispensable to the community around you - and that is doubly true in times of crisis or disaster.

FEMA provides a safety net and support structure for sustaining organizations like yours in a time of crisis. Knowing and understanding if you qualify for FEMA assistance, and how to apply for it, is an important part of being prepared for an emergency. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions about this often confusing process.

Additional Resources

FEMA Public Assistance Program

How to Apply

The Applicants’ Briefing is the first event in the process of getting FEMA assistance, and is an opportunity for State, local, and PNP officials to get information on what assistance is available and how to apply for it. It is held after the President has officially declared a major disaster. The State will notify the potential applicants, including PNP organizations, of the date, time, and location of the meeting. At the Applicants’ Briefing, those seeking FEMA assistance should submit the pre-application, which is the Request for Public Assistance Form.

Following the Applicants’ Briefing and submission of the Request for Public Assistance Form, a State Public Assistance Representative, a FEMA PAC Crew Leader, and the applicant organize a Kickoff Meeting. The applicant can expect to be contacted by either the FEMA PAC Crew Leader or the State PA Representative within one week after submission of the Request for Public Assistance form. If not contacted within one week, the applicant should contact the State PA Representative to organize the Kickoff Meeting.

The Kickoff Meeting is the first of many project-oriented contacts between the applicant, the State PA Representative, and FEMA. It will cover eligibility and documentation information that pertains to the applicant’s particular organization. In preparation for the Kickoff Meeting, the applicant should compile a comprehensive list of damages by location, as well as a description of the damage and scope of work, nature of work, estimated cost, and whether the applicant will be completing the work with their own employees or with contractors. The applicant should also bring all insurance documentation to the Kickoff Meeting. By the end of the Kickoff Meeting, the applicant will have contact information for both the State PA Representative as well as the FEMA PAC Crew Leader, will know what to expect from the Public Assistance Program and will receive the information needed to proceed with the Public Assistance Program.


Submit a comment