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Local 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.

This 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.

This document explains the disaster declaration process and provides an overview of the federal assistance available.


The Governor's request is made through the regional FEMA office.

State, 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.

Based 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.


Not 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 general categories:

Individual Assistance - aid to individuals, families and business owners;

Public Assistance - aid to public (and certain private non-profit) entities for certain emergency services and the repair or replacement of disaster-damaged public facilities;

Hazard 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.

Some disaster declarations will provide only individual assistance or only public assistance. Hazard mitigation opportunities are assessed in most situations.

A brief overview of each of these programs follows.


Individual 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.

  • Temporary Housing Assistance

    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 or eviction.

    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.

  • Small 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:

    • home disaster loans to homeowners and renters to repair or replace disaster-related damages to home or personal property,
    • business physical disaster loans to business owners to repair or
      replace disaster-damaged property, including inventory, and supplies; and
    • economic injury disaster loans, which provide capital to small businesses and to small agricultural cooperatives to assist them through the disaster recovery period.

    For many individuals the SBA disaster loan program is the primary
    form of disaster assistance.

  • Disaster Unemployment 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
    disaster declaration.

    Re-employment services are provided by the State or by the Department of Labor under their own laws.

  • Legal Services

    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 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 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

    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 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 disaster area.

  • Crisis Counseling

    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 declared disasters.

    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 the program.

  • Public Assistance

    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 general public.

    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

    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 wildfire.

    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.

Source: 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


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