Frequently Asked Questions

Our attorneys have years of experience working with FEMA clients who have suffered damages, losses and significant expense as a result of a natural disaster or catastrophic event. These entities are often confused about the disaster assistance process, including both the types of losses or costs that are eligible for FEMA grants and the procedures that must be followed to avoid subsequent disallowance, which may result in requiring return of funds already spent. Following are some of the questions we have frequently encountered in assisting our clients.

Who can apply for federal assistance after major disasters?

To qualify for federal disaster assistance, your loss must have occurred in an area declared by the President of the United States as an official disaster zone. There are a large number of different federal programs that provide response to natural and non-natural events whose effects are so severe that the President declares a major disaster or emergency.

Do I need a lawyer to apply for federal disaster assistance?

An individual rarely would need a lawyer to apply for disaster assistance, since eligibility for individual and family assistance is generally determined by standard formulas and computer programs. Individuals and households impacted by disasters frequently encounter significant legal problems as they grapple with medical and funeral expenses, lost homes and documents, lost jobs and financial security, and strains on family relationships. A “hot-line” staffed by the Young Lawyers’ Division of the American Bar Association is usually established after major disasters to provide legal services to those otherwise unable to obtain them.

Legal assistance is far more important in the Public Assistance Program in which FEMA provides grant money to local, state and tribal governments, and certain types of non-profit entities. Disaster grants can run into the millions of dollars, and eligibility for these sums can turn on technical legal and regulatory requirements. Moreover, applicants must be sure not to jeopardize possible judicial review of adverse decisions on grant funding. Thus, while applicants can apply for FEMA assistance without a lawyer, legal assistance can help assure that disaster assistance is not reduced or forfeited due to failure to comply with eligibility requirements.

How do I find FEMA’s Key Policy Documents?

Most of FEMA’s key policy documents are publicly available on its web site at http://www.fema.gov/public-assistance-policy-and-guidance.

What is the FEMA appeals process?

Baker Donelson’s Disaster Recovery Team has years of experience working with clients who were recently the victims of a natural disaster or catastrophic event. If you were recently turned down for FEMA assistance and are considering a FEMA appeal, it is important to first speak with a qualified attorney who can answer any questions you have.

How does an individual appeal a decision by FEMA?

An individual may appeal any FEMA decision. Appeals may address a person’s eligibility, the amount or type of help you received, late applications or requests to return money. You will not automatically get another inspection just because you appeal. For additional information on the appeal process, please click on http://www.fema.gov/help-after-disaster

Questions for State and Local Governments

Are state and local governments required to integrate antiterrorism into mitigation planning?

Although there is no requirement in the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 or any other FEMA program to incorporate the possibility of terrorism into all hazard mitigation planning, state and local governments are strongly encouraged to treat anti-terrorism as an element in mitigation and establish or enhance the linkages between law enforcement/security, emergency management and other stakeholder organizations.

Are anti-terrorism measures eligible for Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funding?

At this time, the HMGP does not fund measures to mitigate the risk of terrorism. However, measures that provide multi-hazard benefits (such as seismic retrofits, which can help reduce blast damage) may be eligible. Additionally, planning money may be used to include anti-terrorism in mitigation planning.