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What You Need To Know Before Applying for FEMA Funds

Many individuals in Florence County have suffered damage to their property because of the strong winds and rain from Hurricane Matthew. Because of the scale of the damage, residents in the area are now eligible to apply for FEMA Disaster Assistance. Below are a list of questions and answers you should read through before applying to FEMA so you know what to do and what to expect.

Q: What type of assistance can FEMA provide?
A: “FEMA will offer grants, and those grants can be used in a number of ways. It can be used for temporary housing assistance if you had to move out of your home and you needed somewhere to stay, it can help you in that process. It can be used to replace property damage that you had, personal property losses, it can also assist you with repairs that you may have to your home. If you’ve had any medical or dental expenses as a result of the storm or even funeral expenses, we might be able to assist you with that. If you had a vehicle that you used to get to and from work, then that vehicle may also be eligible for some assistance to be repaired.”

Q: What documentation do I need to apply for FEMA?
A: “When you register with FEMA, you will need several things. One is your social security number. We also need proof of ownership or occupancy of a unit that you may be renting. We need to have information concerning where your damage property is, where you are currently residing, information concerning your bank account as well because if you want money, we transfer directly into your account. We will need that kind of information. So, those are the types of things. In addition, we probably will also need information concerning your overall household income.”

Q: Should I contact my insurance provider first or FEMA about my damages?
A: “You should first contact your insurance provider if you have one. We cannot duplicate what your insurance companies may cover. So, we need to make sure that your insurance company will let you know exactly what they’ll cover so if you have any unmet needs that insurance doesn’t cover, we might be able to assist you with that.”

Q: What if I don’t have insurance?
A: “If you don’t have insurance, call FEMA first. You can do that by calling our 800 number. That’s 1(800)-621-3362 or you can go online to disaster, register that way. We have operators on staff 7 days a week 7am-11pm.”

Q: If I plan to apply for FEMA, should I wait for an inspector from FEMA to come to my house or can I start making my repairs?
A: “We really encourage folks if you’ve had damages, go ahead and start your repairs. Do not wait for your insurance company or for FEMA to assist you. Just make sure that you document everything that you’re doing either by taking photographs, keeping receipts to all of that property because we want to make sure if you have mold in your home, you get that out as quickly as possible.”

Q: How do I start the application process?
A: “Again, that’s by calling our 1(800)621-3362 number, going online to We will also have disaster survivor assistance teams out in the declared counties going door-to-door. If you are back in your home, we will be knocking on your door to find out whether or not you’re registered. If you have not registered with us, they will be able to register you on site. They have iPads with them. We also will have disaster recovery centers opening up in these communities in the next few days, and we really encourage folks who have damages even if you’ve registered to come in, speak with our folks there. Make sure that they can find out what the status of your claim is. We will have representatives from the state, from FEMA, from the Small Business Administration, who is a partner agency in this operation, as well as local officials and voluntary agencies.”

Q: How will I know if I am eligible for FEMA assistance?
A:“If you’ve had damages, go ahead and register with FEMA. We will send an inspector out to your home within a few days. They will document the damages and send that information forward to our individual assistance program and they will make the determination as to whether or not you are eligible.”

Q: What if I have damage to things besides my home (i.e. lawn mowers, generators, vehicles?
A: “If those items were inside of your home, we might be able to help assist you. It’s always on a case-by-case basis. However, if you had a vehicle that you used as your primary vehicle to get to and from work that was damaged, we might be able to assist you in repairs of that vehicle.”  

Q: Can FEMA help me with evacuation expenses or if the storm did not allow me to go to work?
A: “There is disaster unemployment assistance that comes into play with these things. They need to check with the state on some of those issues. However, we do assist people if they’ve been out of work if they have damages that is caused them not to be able to work. So, we just want them to know when they register, let our folks know that so that everything can be documented in their account.”

Q: When will they set up distribution centers so I can talk with someone about applying for FEMA one-on-one?
A: “We are slowly getting them set up. The state is the one who determines where those locations are. So, as those come online, we will let people know that those are opening and we are ready for folks to come into them.”

Q: What if I get a denial letter from FEMA after I apply?
A: “We really encourage you to read that letter thoroughly, don’t just throw it away. It may be that you just forgot to provide us with some information or had incorrect information. That’s a very real possibility, and that’s a very minor issue. However, if there’s another reason why you’re denied, then we will tell you please come in to one of our recovery centers. You can write an appeal. We will assist you in doing that as well. If you receive a referral to the Small Business Administration with that determination letter, we ask you to please go through that process. You may not be eligible down the line if you have outstanding debt and other issues. So, you may be declined by the Small Business Administration for that loan, if that happens, then you will be referred back to FEMA for a second look. So, you want to make sure that folks continue that process. They may think they don’t want the loan. If they’re approved for it, they don’t have to take the loan, but if they are not approved, and they get referred back to us, then we might be able to help them, but if they stop and they don’t go through that process, it stops them right there.”

Q: If FEMA still owes me money from the flood last October, will this storm push back that timeline of getting that money?
A: “No. These are two separate events, and that money and what not has already been set aside for that particular disaster. This is a whole new operation.”

Q: What can I expect after I apply for FEMA?
A: “You will receive a call from one of our inspectors. That will happen within a couple of days. The inspectors will come out to your property as long as it is accessible. If for some reason, your property is still under water, we ask you to please let us know when your property has become accessible so that our inspectors can get there quickly. Once they go through the process, document the damages, they’ll refer that information back to FEMA and then we will take a look at it and within about five days, you should receive a determination from us.”

Q: If I am denied FEMA assistance, how do I appeal that letter of denial?
A: “You can appeal. You have 60 days from the date of that letter to appeal. Again, if we have a recovery center open in your community, come into that recovery center. The folks there become your advocates, and they will work with you to help you in that process and even help you to write those appeals.”

Q: If I were to apply for FEMA today, how long will it take before I get money back from FEMA to make my repairs?
A: “Every individual situation is different, but it could be a very, very short time, within a week.”

(Originally posted by Taylor Herlong on

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