GUIDE TO THE DISASTER DECLARATION PROCESS AND TYPES OF FEDERAL DISASTER
and State governments share the responsibility for protecting
their citizens from disasters, and for helping them
to recover when a disaster strikes.
In some cases, a disaster is beyond the capabilities
of the State and local government to respond. The Robert
T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
Act, Public Law 93-288, as amended (the Stafford Act)
was enacted to support State and local governments and
their citizens when disasters overwhelm them.
law establishes a process for requesting and obtaining
a Presidential disaster declaration, defines the type
and scope of assistance available under the Stafford
Act, and sets the conditions for obtaining that assistance.
document explains the disaster declaration process and provides
an overview of the federal assistance available.
DISASTER DECLARATION PROCESS
Governor's request is made through the regional FEMA
local, and Federal officials conduct a preliminary damage
assessment (PDA) to estimate the extent of the disaster
and its impact on individuals and public facilities.
The information gathered during the PDA documents the
severity and magnitude of the event and is included
in the Governor's request.
on the Governor's request, the President may declare
that a major disaster or emergency exists, thus activating
an array of Federal programs to assist in the response
and recovery effort.
ASSISTANCE AVAILABLE UNDER A MAJOR DISASTER DECLARATION
all federal programs are activated for every disaster.
The determination of which programs are activated is
based on the needs found during the joint preliminary
damage assessment and any subsequent information that
may be discovered. Federal disaster assistance available
under a major disaster declaration falls into three
Assistance - aid to individuals, families and business
Assistance - aid to public (and certain private
non-profit) entities for certain emergency services
and the repair or replacement of disaster-damaged public
Mitigation Assistance - funding for measures designed
to reduce future losses to public and private property.
In the event of a major disaster declaration, all counties
within the declared State are eligible to apply for
assistance under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.
disaster declarations will provide only individual assistance
or only public assistance. Hazard mitigation opportunities
are assessed in most situations.
brief overview of each of these programs follows.
Assistance programs are oriented to individuals and
families. Programs range from grants to loans to counseling
services. In every case, the disaster victim must register
for assistance and establish eligibility. The toll-free
telephone registration number is 1-800-462-9029 (or
TTY 1-800-462-7585 for the hearing or speech impaired).
FEMA (or the providing agency) will verify eligibility
and need before assistance is offered. Individual Assistance
includes the following programs.
The Temporary Housing Assistance program assures
that people whose homes are damaged by disaster have
a safe place to live until repairs can be completed.
Temporary housing assistance includes: home repair
assistance, rental assistance, mortgage and rental
assistance, lodging reimbursement, and referral to
other housing programs. These programs are designed
to provide funds for expenses that are not covered
by insurance. They are available only to homeowners
and renters who are legal residents of the United
States and were displaced by the disaster.
Home repair assistance provides a check to
help repair a home to a habitable condition. The amount
of the check is based on Structural damage, as determined
by a FEMA inspection.
Rental assistance provides a check to rent
a place for the pre-disaster household to live. The
amount of the check is based on established fair market
rent in the area. (In rare instances,
a mobile home, travel trailer, or readily fabricated
dwelling may be provided in place of Rental assistance.)
Mortgage and rental assistance (MRA) provides
a check to pay the rent or mortgage to prevent eviction
or foreclosure. To be eligible, the applicant must
be living in the same house before
and after the disaster and prove occupancy. The applicant
must have a documented disaster_related financial
hardship (lost employment or business income) that
can be confirmed by FEMA, must be unable to make their
housing payment due to the disaster, and must have
received formal written notice of possible foreclosure
Referral to other government housing programs
may also be provided, if necessary. This may include
residence in government-owned housing or financial
assistance from specialized programs. Additional conditions
of eligibility may apply.
Individual and Family Grants
The Individual and Family Grant Program (IFG)
provides funds for the necessary expenses and serious
needs of disaster victims that cannot be met through
insurance or other forms of disaster assistance (including
low interest loans from the Small Business Administration).
The maximum amount of each grant is indexed for inflation
by the Consumer Price Index. For fiscal year 2000,
each individual or family may receive up to $13,900
through the IFG Program, however, the average grant
tends to be in the $2,000 to $4,000 range.
Among the needs that can be met through the IFG Program
are housing, personal property, medical, dental, funeral,
transportation and required flood insurance premiums.
To obtain assistance for housing and personal property,
applicants may be required to apply to the U.S.
Small Business Administration (SBA) for a disaster
loan. If the SBA determines the applicant ineligible
for a loan, or if the loan amount is insufficient,
the applicant is referred to the IFG program.
IFG recipients who live in Special Flood Hazard Areas
(SFHA) and receive assistance as a result of flood
damages to their home and/or personal property will
be provided flood insurance coverage as part of their
grant award, for three years under a National Flood
Insurance Program (NFIP) group flood insurance policy.
The three year coverage is at no cost to the grantee
and includes a $200
deductible applicable separately to real property
(structure) and personal property (contents). This
flood insurance must be kept active for the life of
the property in order to receive Federal assistance
for any future flood-related losses.
Business Administration Disaster Loans
The U.S. Small Business Administration can make loans
to repair or replace homes, personal property or businesses
that sustained damages not covered by insurance. The
SBA can provide three types of disaster loans to qualified
homeowners and businesses:
many individuals the SBA disaster loan program is the
home disaster loans to homeowners and renters to
repair or replace disaster-related damages to home
or personal property,
physical disaster loans to business owners to repair
replace disaster-damaged property, including inventory,
and supplies; and
injury disaster loans, which provide capital to
small businesses and to small agricultural cooperatives
to assist them through the disaster recovery period.
form of disaster assistance.
The Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) program
provides unemployment benefits and re-employment services
to individuals who have become unemployed because
of major disasters, and who are not eligible for disaster
benefits under regular unemployment insurance programs.
All unemployed individuals must register with the
StateÆs employment services office in order
to receive DUA benefits. Benefits may extend from
the date of the disaster until 26 weeks after the
Re-employment services are provided by the State or
by the Department of Labor under their own laws.
When the President declares a disaster, FEMA, 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
with insurance claims (life, medical, property,
on landlord/tenant problems
in consumer protection matters, remedies, and procedures
of wills and other important legal documents destroyed
in a major disaster.
Disaster legal services are meant for 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.
Special Tax Considerations
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 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 designation. It
is available to any taxpayer in a federally declared
The Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program
is designed to provide funding to States for short-term
crisis counseling services to people affected by Presidentially
The immediate services program is intended
to enable the State or local agency to respond to
the immediate mental health needs of disaster victims
with screening, diagnostic, and counseling techniques,
as well as outreach services such as public information
and community networking.
The regular program is designed to provide
up to nine months of crisis counseling, community
outreach, and consultation and education services
to people affected by a Presidentially declared disaster.
To be eligible for crisis counseling services funded
by this program, the person must be a resident of
the designated area or must have been located in the
area at the time the disaster occurred. The person
must also have a mental health problem that was caused
by or aggravated by the disaster or its aftermath,
or he or she must benefit from services provided by
Public Assistance, oriented to public entities, can
fund the repair, restoration, reconstruction, or replacement
of a public facility or infrastructure which is damaged
or destroyed by a disaster.
Certain private nonprofit (PNP) organizations may
also receive assistance. Eligible PNPs include
educational, utility, emergency, medical, rehabilitation,
and temporary or permanent custodial care facilities
(including those for the aged and disabled), and other
PNP facilities that provide
essential services of a governmental nature to the
As soon as practicable after the declaration, the
State, assisted by FEMA, conducts briefings for State,
local and PNP officials to inform them of the assistance
available and how to apply for it. An
intent to apply for assistance must be filed with
the State within 30 days after the area is designated
eligible for assistance.
Following the briefings, State or local representatives
(or applicants) identify public or PNP facility damages.
Applicants may combine damage sites into work projects.
Projects falling below a certain threshold are considered
small. For fiscal year 2000, that threshold is $48,900.
Projects fall into the following categories:
Category A: Debris removal
Category B: Emergency protective measures
Category C: Road systems and bridges
Category D: Water control facilities
Category E: Public buildings and contents
Category F: Public utilities
Category G: Parks, recreational, and other
For insurable structures within Special Flood Hazard
Areas, primarily buildings, assistance from FEMA is
reduced by the amount of insurance settlement which
could have been obtained under a
standard NFIP policy. For structures located outside
of a SFHA, FEMA will reduce the amount of eligible
assistance by any insurance proceeds.
FEMA reviews and approves the PWs and obligates the
Federal share of the costs (which cannot be less than
75 percent) to the State. The State then disburses
funds to local applicants.
For small projects, payment of the Federal share of
the estimate is made upon approval of the project
and no further accounting to FEMA is required.
For large projects, payment is made on the basis of
actual costs determined after the project is completed;
although interim payments may be made as necessary.
Once FEMA obligates funds
to the State, further management of the assistance,
including disbursement to subgrantees is the responsibility
of the State. FEMA will continue to monitor the recovery
progress to ensure the timely delivery of eligible
assistance and compliance with the law and regulations.
Hazard Mitigation refers to sustained measures enacted
to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people and
property from natural hazards and their effects. In
the long term, mitigation measures reduce personal
loss, save lives, and reduce the cost to the nation
of responding to and recovering from disasters.
Through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP),
authorized by communities can apply for mitigation
funds through the State. The State, as grantee, is
responsible for notifying potential applicants of
the availability of funding, defining a project selection
process, ranking and prioritizing projects for funding,
and forwarding projects to FEMA for approval.
Eligible mitigation measures under the HMGP include
acquisition or relocation of properties located in
high hazard areas; elevation of floodprone structures;
seismic and wind retrofitting of existing
structures; and protecting existing structures against
All HMGP projects must comply with all relevant environmental
laws and Executive Orders.
In addressing flood hazards, FEMA's primary emphasis
under the HMGP is the implementation of non-structural
measures. Non-structural measures include the acquisition
and demolition, relocation, elevation, or dry floodproofing
(non-residential structures only) of flood damaged
or floodprone properties.
Federal Emergency Management Agency.
New Jersey is located in FEMA Region II. Federal Emergency
Management Agency, 26 Federal Plaza, Room 1337, New
York, NY 10278-0002, (212) 225-7209