Tips: Communicating with Applicants about FEMA Individual Assistance

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Following a disaster, public information officers, and local leaders, officials and staff will need to communicate with homeowners about FEMA Individual Assistance (IA).  Homeowners can apply for assistance in recovering from a disaster through the FEMA IA program.

First, let homeowners know about the availability of FEMA Individual Assistance. 

  • Following a disaster declaration, homeowners may be unaware that Individual Assistance is available or that they need to apply for it personally. Get the word out as soon as possible.
  • Likewise, use various channels to get the word out. Hang fliers, go door-to-door, advertise on radio and TV, use social media, etc. Make sure that your locality has a coordinated approach so that you are providing a consistent message.

Second, give homeowners information about how to apply. 

  • Make homeowners aware of where offices to meet with FEMA and state representatives.
  • If possible, review the program with homeowners. Make sure they understand what types of costs are eligible. FEMA provides an Applicant Guide in both English and Spanish, as well as a shorter Fact Sheet about the program.
  • Let homeowners know what documentation to bring to help ensure their application is compliant, and provide them with a checklist they can take with them. Documentation includes:
    • Social Security Number
    • Insurance information
    • Proof of occupancy 
    • Financial information
    • Contact information
    • Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) Direct Deposit Information (optional)

Third, set homeowner expectations.

  • It is difficult to predict what will be approved for assistance. Be upfront with homeowners that you do not decide what is approved and that you do not have control over this.
  • Many homeowners have experienced devastating circumstances because of the disaster. Be prepared to be compassionate and empathetic without making promises to help them feel better. You cannot tell them whether they will receive assistance or how much they will receive.
  • Homeowners who are approved often get a large sum of money directly from FEMA. They may be tempted to spend this money on frivolous expenses, or even on making ends meet. Emphasize that this money is only intended for specific, approved expenses directly related to disaster recovery. They must keep receipts and be able to prove that the entire amount received was used for approved expenditures. They will receive a letter from FEMA explaining how they can use funds; however, they may receive this letter several days after they receive the money, particularly if the money is received via direct deposit. Advise them not to spend anything until they have received and carefully reviewed the letter.
  • Homeowners may expect that disaster assistance will make them whole on their losses or improve their pre-disaster conditions. Be clear that any disaster assistance they receive is intended to help them have a safe place to live.

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