Getting Help from FEMA & Other Major Relief Providers

FEMA Photo

Any disaster in a community spurs an array of service providers to spring into action. (We hope! Generally, they do this very well.) The response begins with police and fire departments and can build up to FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Where do I start?”
First, look local. Shelters will be made available. Call the Red Cross or Salvation Army. Or talk with their people, if you see them at the shelter or at temporary command headquarters. Help may also come from organizations such as the United Way, Catholic Charities or United Jewish Appeal.

These agencies often supply small cash grants — for food, clothing, shelter, monthly bills, planning, counseling, and sometimes relocation costs. (See contact information below).

To find out what agencies are helping, visit FEMA’s website, call your local or state office of emergency management, contact local charities, and/or look at local media (newspapers, radio, TV).

If FEMA gets involved, you’ll know.

Signs will go up, ads will appear in the media, and word of mouth will spread. This means that a Presidential declaration of a major disaster has been made. If you’ve been affected, this also means that federal money can be made available.

FEMA can make cash grants of up to $28,800 for disaster-related needs that are not covered by insurance or any other source. But to qualify, you have to register with FEMA. This is key! Either call 1-800-621-3362 for a brief interview, fill out a form at FEMA's website, or go to a Disaster Assistance Recovery Center that’s been set up.

Here’s what you’ll need: Your Social Security number, a description of your losses, insurance and financial information, directions to your damaged property, and a number where you can be reached. Be ready to write down your registration number at the end of the interview. For more details, review the FEMA Application Checklist here.

For help with arts-related losses

Generally, only artist and art-specific agencies can help you with arts-related losses. You can find these resources at:

New York Foundation for the Arts - NYFA Source: Click on “Emergency Resources.” Click on “Services and Programs,” then “Resources.” The pull-down menu “Programs” brings up listings under “Emergency Financial Assistance” and “Disaster,” and can be searched by state. Though aimed at entertainment professionals, the Actors Fund links can often be useful to others in the arts who need access to help and services.

FEMA Photo

You’ll receive an application form. Complete all of it, including the SBA loan form if provided. You’ll have to include proof of residency — mortgage payments, or a driver’s license.

A FEMA inspector may come inspect your losses, and you’ll get a determination letter within about 10 days. If you’re approved, a check or direct deposit will be made to your bank account. You must use this aid as specified in FEMA’s letter!

If you are denied FEMA aid, your determination letter will state the reason, and you may appeal.

What’s FEMA aid for? How long does it continue?

It’s for property losses or damage not covered by insurance, and for critical expenses (from emergency clothing or vehicle damage to cleanup equipment) that you can’t cover in any other way. FEMA will ask you for insurance information, so file any insurance claims first.

FEMA support may last for as long as 18 months beyond the time of the disaster.

FEMA aid can cover:

  • temporary housing costs

  • home repair and replacement costs

  • support for other disaster-related needs, like medical, dental and funeral expenses

  • repair and replacement costs for furniture, appliances, clothing, and necessary educational materials

  • disaster-damaged vehicles

  • moving and storage expenses related to the disaster.

After you register with FEMA, reach out to all other agencies that are helping — the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and others. 

Take things step by step ... reach out to friends, family and neighbors ... celebrate small steps ... and remember that you can recover. It may take a while. But you can make it.

Artist-to-Artist Video

SBA assessment gave us proof of damage

Russell Karkowski talks about recovering from a flood that affected his studio.

Benefits for the Self-Employed

Artists should know that the U.S. Dept. of Labor runs a disaster unemployment insurance program for people who are out of work because of a disaster but don’t otherwise qualify for unemployment insurance — mainly the self-employed.

To get this help, you must register with your state’s employment services office and provide proof of earnings. Benefits usually start from the date of your unemployment due to the disaster, and can extend up to 26 weeks after the Presidential declaration date. More information on the U.S. Department of Labor Web Site.

 Vital contact information for emergency relief providers:

Here’s how to get in touch with the key agencies, both public and nonprofit, for help in times of disaster:
The Federal Government has set up a web site that coordinates information on disaster assistance that is available through at least 17 federal agencies. This website consolidates the application process across several agencies including FEMA and SBA.

1-800-621-FEMA (1-800-621-3362)

American Red Cross
1-800-REDCROSS (1-800-733-2767) (Disaster Services & Emergency Assistance hotline)

Salvation Army
1-800-SAL-ARMY  (1-800-725-2769) (This is the central number. The operator will provide contact information for the chapter closest to the caller)

Small Business Administration
1-800-659-2955 (disaster loan hotline) or 1-800-827-5722 (Help Desk hotline)