Federal Grants for Natural Disaster Relief

A look at the federal grants and funds available for individuals and businesses affected by a natural disaster.


Despite our modern forecasting processes and meteorology advancements, people can never fully predict when and where a natural disaster will strike. Time after time, regions worldwide have been disrupted if not devastated by an unforeseen and unprecedented natural disaster which takes years, if not decades to recover from.

The most recent example, of course, is the devastating Typhoon Haiyan which leveled huge portions of the Philippines, impacting over half of the 80 Philippine provinces. But while Americans have not had to deal face-to-face with the 150+ mph winds which affected more than 9.7 million Philippines residents since 1954's Hurricane Hazel, the threat of a hurricane, tornado, flood or other natural disaster is always lingering, and can have long-lasting effects.

2012's Superstorm Sandy was a surprise to many New Yorkers and New Jersey residents, as the hurricane tore through coastal communities, causing massive damage to homes and businesses that had been standing, untouched, for decades. New Orleans is still feeling the aftershocks of Hurricane Katrina in 2004, with some neighborhoods all but abandoned since the levees broke and caused irreparable flooding to hundreds of homes.

Other natural and unusual disasters have grabbed headlines over the past few years, including a wave of wildfires which tore through the western states, and a massive tornado which affected portions of western Massachusetts and Connecticut - including regions that hadn't been affected by tornadoes in centuries, if ever before.

If there's anything to take away from these disasters, however, it's that a US resident should always be prepared, and have a grasp on the federally funded programs and disaster grants available to individuals and local governments before, during, and after a natural weather event or emergency.

The federal government offers a number of grants and disaster relief programs for its citizens, and home and business owners who may find themselves a victim of an unforeseen weather event or other disaster will also find that help is available through a number of federally funded channels.

After a major hurricane, storm, tornado or flooding, often the first resource for natural disaster victims is the Federal Emergency Management Agency, commonly known as FEMA. After the disaster hits, the federal government, sometimes prompted by the request of the state which is affected by the disaster, steps in and declares the state and / or affected areas as a federal disaster site, which enables local and state-wide infrastructure, as well as individual residents and businesses, eligible for most disaster relief programs.

The first step for an individual or business that has been affected is typically to fill out a FEMA application. FEMA appropriates both funds and loans for affected disaster victims to make repairs, replace lost property, find adequate housing in the interim, and otherwise start the initial steps to getting back to normal. Potential applicants will need a detailed assessment of the damages, as well as a good grasp of any damages that are already covered by homeowners or flood insurance when applying. FEMA relief in the form of funds or loans to replace and repair property is typically the most common form of federal assistance for individual federal disaster victims, and the initial FEMA application is often required for other disaster grants as well.

To make things easy for applicants, FEMA has a toll-free telephone number where potential applicants can start the registration process, (800) 621-3362. From here, in most cases, an application packet is mailed to the recipient, (or, if able, the applicant can fill out an application online), and / or a FEMA representative may stop by the home or damaged property to assess the losses and relay, in person, what options are available.

Over the years, many storm victims have found the federal FEMA grants and assistance programs a lifeline in an otherwise devastating time, and thousands of families have been able to rebuild due solely to the assistance of FEMA grants and funds. For example, after Hurricane Irene in 2011, FEMA stepped in to help dozens of local Outer Banks, North Carolina residents who had lost their homes and were uninsured or underinsured, and today, many of these families have gotten back to their residences, their jobs, and their lives.

There are also specialized grants available for the sometimes unforeseen, but nevertheless equally devastating consequences of a national disaster. For example, the Disaster Unemployment Assistance grant, administered by the Department of Labor, provides funds and re-employment assistance services to affected individuals who are unable to return to their place of work as a direct result of a federally recognized disaster. Individuals who are displaced by the disaster, and are unable to find reasonable accommodations with their own funds can also look into the Federal Assistance to Individuals and Households-Disaster Housing Operations grant, which provides FEMA or state issued funds to individuals so they can find a temporary home while their residence is put back together.

Many more grants are available to specialized fields of employment and businesses, especially farmers, where federal grants can help alleviate losses due to destruction of crops, livestock, and even storage facilities.

Of course, one of the most important remedies for coping with and surviving a natural disaster is to be prepared beforehand, and the federal government also has a number of programs available to assist with the planning stages, which are typically granted to state and Native American governments. For example, Pre-Disaster Mitigation grants and Highway Planning and Construction grants are available to ensure states and other local governments have a network of disaster response resources at their disposal, (including safe and well-planned evacuation routes.)

Clearly, as evident by Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, Typhoon Haiyan, and the countless other hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and other natural disasters that have swept across varying regions of the world, there is no ultimate method of protecting a region from a natural disaster.

The saving grace is that with the assistance of dozens of targeted federal grants and funds designed to help US residents and disaster victims during the direst of times, affected individuals and businesses can rest assured that help will be available to take those first crucial steps towards getting back to normal after a natural disaster.

Federal Grants Resources