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December 9, 2013

Myth vs. Fact: The Truth about Registering for Federal Disaster Assistance

Springfield, Ill. – In the aftermath of a disaster, misconceptions about disaster assistance can often prevent survivors from applying for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Small Business Administration. A good rule of thumb: register, even if you’re unsure whether you’ll be eligible for assistance.

Registering with FEMA is simple. You can apply online at DisasterAssistance.gov or with a mobile device by downloading the FEMA app or by visiting m.fema.gov. You can also register over the phone by calling FEMA’s helpline, 800-621-FEMA (3362). Survivors who are deaf or hard of hearing and use a TTY can call 800-462-7585. The toll-free telephone numbers operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (local time) seven days a week until further notice.

Clarification on some common misunderstandings:

  • MYTH: I've already cleaned up the damage to my home and had the repairs made. Isn’t it too late to register once the work is done?
    FACT: You may be eligible for reimbursement of your clean up and repair costs, even if repairs are complete.
  • MYTH: I believe FEMA only makes loans so I didn’t apply for help because I don’t want a loan.    
    FACT: FEMA only provides grants that do not have to be paid back. The grants may cover expenses for temporary housing, home repairs, replacement of damaged personal property and other disaster-related needs such as medical, dental or transportation costs not covered by insurance or other programs.    

The U.S. Small Business Administration provides low-interest disaster loans to renters, homeowners and businesses of all sizes. Some applicants may be contacted by SBA after registering with FEMA. You are not obligated to take out a loan, but if you don’t complete the application, you may not be considered for other federal grant programs. You can apply online using the Electronic Loan Application (ELA) via SBA's secure website at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. For more information on SBAs Disaster Loan Program, visit SBA.gov/Disaster, call the SBA Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 (TTY 800-877-8339 for the deaf and hard-of-hearing) or send an email to DisasterCustomerService@sba.gov.

  • MYTH: I don’t want to apply for help because others had more damage than I had; they need the help more than I did.        
    FACT: FEMA has enough funding to assist all eligible survivors with their disaster-related needs. 
  • MYTH: I'm a renter. I thought FEMA assistance was only for homeowners for home repairs.
    FACT: FEMA assistance is not just for homeowners. FEMA may provide assistance to help renters who lost personal property or who were displaced.
  • MYTH: FEMA assistance could affect my Social Security benefits, taxes, food stamps or Medicaid.
    FACT: FEMA assistance does not affect benefits from other federal programs and is not considered taxable income.
  • MYTH: I heard registration involves a lot of red tape and paperwork.
    FACT: There is no paperwork to register with FEMA. The process is very easy and normally takes between 15 and 20 minutes.
  • MYTH: Since I received disaster assistance last year, I’m sure I can’t get it again this year.
    FACT: Assistance may be available if you suffered damages from a new federally-declared disaster.
  • MYTH: My income is probably too high for me to qualify for FEMA disaster assistance.
    FACT: Income is not a consideration for FEMA grant assistance. However you will be asked financial questions during registration to help determine eligibility for SBA low-interest disaster loans.

For the latest information on Illinois’ recovery from the Nov. 17 storms, visit FEMA.gov/Disaster/4157. Follow FEMA online at twitter.com/femaregion5, facebook.com/fema and youtube.com/fema. The social media links provided are for reference only. FEMA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies or applications.

FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards. Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency or economic status. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at 800-621-FEMA (3362). For TTY call 800-462-7585.

SBA is the federal government’s primary source of funding for the long-term rebuilding of disaster-damaged private property. SBA helps homeowners, renters, businesses of all sizes, and private non-profit organizations fund repairs or rebuilding efforts, and cover the cost of replacing lost or disaster-damaged personal property. These disaster loans cover uninsured and uncompensated losses and do not duplicate benefits of other agencies or organizations. For information about SBA programs, applicants may call 800-659-2955 (TTY 800-877-8339).