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Answers to the Most Commonly Asked Disaster Aid Questions

NEW YORK – Answering questions about FEMA rental assistance, National Flood Insurance Program and federal infrastructure and debris removal grants in 140 characters is not easy. But it can be done.

New York’s Federal Coordinating Officer for Hurricane Sandy, Michael Byrne, hosted the first of a series of ‘live’ chats on Twitter this week to address questions and concerns about disaster assistance. He managed to tweet about FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Program, Disaster Unemployment Assistance and housing repair grants in the one-hour session.

As storm survivors have only two more weeks to register with FEMA – the deadline is January 28, 2013 – the agency has put together some of the most commonly asked questions about disaster aid, elaborating with a few more than 140 characters. 

Individual Assistance

Q: How long will the Transitional Shelter Assistance last?

A: TSA is a short-term program that places families in hotels in areas with significant rental shortages while they work toward a housing plan. At this time, we are proactively working with each TSA family on a case-by-case basis to assist them in their long-term housing plans.  Checkout date for applicants currently in hotels is January 27, 2013.

Q: How do I get the money to rebuild?

A: Disaster assistance can come from multiple sources – insurance payments; FEMA grants, U.S. Small Business Administration Low-Interest Disaster Loans (which are not just for businesses, but for families and individuals) and voluntary organizations.

Q: I received an application for an SBA loan. Why did I receive that? I don’t want a loan.

A: Nobody is required to take out a loan, but if you receive the application, it must be filled out. If you are approved, you do not need to take it. But if you change your mind within months, you can still do so. If you are not approved, you may be eligible for FEMA grants.  However, you may not receive these grants unless you submit the SBA loan application. It takes about 30 minutes to fill out the application.

Q: How do non-English or Spanish speaking people apply for disaster assistance?

A: FEMA has set up a special number for non-English/non-Spanish speakers to speak to an interpreter in any language: 866-333-1796.

Q: How do people with disabilities apply?

A: If you have a speech disability or hearing impairment and use a TTY, call 800-462-7585; if you use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 800-621-3362.

FEMA’s local disaster recovery centers also have accessibility equipment, such as CapTel phones, which display text, and iPads with Video Relay Service. Magnifiers are also available for people with low vision and information in braille. For those who don’t read braille, audio recordings offer instructions on how to apply to FEMA.

Q: How do you expect renters who lost everything they own to start over with the amount of grants FEMA gives?

A: FEMA is only part of the solution. The agency’s mission is to help survivors get back on their feet, not return everything exactly back to the way it was. That being said, you can file an appeal with FEMA if you think there was an error in the amount of financial assistance you received. However, there is a cap on disaster assistance, as it is intended as a way of getting survivors started.

Q: I submitted my papers for disaster assistance but have not heard anything, how long does it take to hear back?

A: If you submitted an application for assistance due to damage to your home, a FEMA-contracted inspector should contact you to schedule an appointment within 10 days of registering. If you are seeking other forms of assistance, and you have completed and mailed in your SBA disaster loan application, you should receive an eligibility letter within 10 days of returning your paperwork. If 10 days have passed and you haven’t heard from us, please call 800-621-3362.Federal Coordinating Officer Mike Byrne responds to questions on Twitter about Hurricane Sandy disaster assistance.

Q: I applied for FEMA assistance and was asked to provide additional documentation.  How long does it take to receive a decision?

A: Again call the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362 (TTY 800-462-7585) and have your case number available.

Q: I’ve tried calling the FEMA helpline and cannot get through. What should I do?

A: Visit a Disaster Recovery Center to talk to someone face to face. You can find the nearest location at

Q: FEMA approved my disaster assistance request, how long does it take to receive money?

A: You should receive a check from FEMA within seven to 10 days of the approval of your request (sooner if you arranged for an electronic bank transfer.)

Q: How can I extend my FEMA rental assistance?

A: To receive additional temporary rental assistance, you must complete the Continuing Need form with all the applicable information and mail it back to us at the address printed on the form. If you don’t have the form, contact FEMA’s toll-free Help Line 800-621-FEMA (3362).

To receive additional temporary rental assistance as quickly as possible, applicants must: 

  • Complete the form with all the applicable information and mail it back to FEMA at the address printed on the form.
  • Applicants will need to provide information of both pre-disaster and current expenses that are applicable to their households such as pay-stubs to verify income.
  • They also must provide a copy of their lease and the name and phone number of their landlord.  
  • Applicants who don’t have the form should contact FEMA’s toll-free Help Line 800-621-FEMA (3362)

National Flood Insurance Program

Q: What should I do if I’m still waiting on my flood insurance settlement?

A: Contact your insurance agent or carrier to see if you may be eligible for an expedited flood insurance payment to cover repairs of your home’s mechanicals damaged in the disaster. You can call the NFIP Help Center 800-427-4661 to address questions about your flood insurance claim or payment.

Q: Why am I required to build above the minimum elevation requirement?

A: Each community develops their own local building requirements. You should contact your community’s floodplain manager to discuss elevation requirements for your property.  

Elevation requirements are meant to protect your home from future flood damages. In general, if your home is located in a high-risk area, the higher you build above the base flood elevation, the lower your premium and potential for flood damage.

Q: Who can I contact to find out how high I need to build?

A: You should contact your community’s floodplain manager who can help you walk through the elevation requirements for your property.  His/her contact information is usually available on your city government web site.

Q: How do I start the process of elevating my home?

A: It’s important to start by determining your local community’s elevation requirement. Contact your community’s floodplain manager to discuss your property’s requirements and next steps to rebuilding.

You can learn more about how to elevate your home by visiting and searching for the reference guides “Above the Flood: Elevating your Floodprone House” or “Protecting your Home and Property from Flood Damage.”

Last Updated: 
07/08/2017 - 10:22