Although many Americans are working hard to help their neighbors, during chaotic times, some will always try to take advantage of the most vulnerable. To dispel some of the false rumors circulating on the internet and social media, we are addressing some of the most common themes on this page.
Myth: FEMA decision letter.
Myth: After receiving a FEMA decision letter, I can only file an appeal once.
Myth: If i disagree with a FEMA decision letter, i can only file an appeal once.
Myth: Survivors with disabilities can't apply for disaster assistance
- accessible entrances
- written material in large print
- assistive listening devices
- captioned phones
- tablets to facilitate Video Relay SErvice and Video Remote Interpreting
If you need materials in alternative formats, just ask.
Myth: I don't need to complete a U.S. Small Business Administration loan application because i don't own a business.
Myth: I don't need to complete a U.S. Small Business Administration loan application because i don't own a business.
Fact: The SBA is the largest source of federal disaster funding for recovery. Thei low interest disaster loans help fund repairs and rebuilding efforts for individual homeowners and renters. These loans can cover the cost of replacin lost or disaster-damaged real estate and personal property. For more information, call the SBA Hotline at 800-659-2955 (TTY) 800-877-8339 or visit sba.gov/disaster
Rumor: I need a verifiable contractor estimate to appeal my FEMA decision.
Yes, this is true. If the reason for your appeal is home repair cost related, your written appeal must include a verifiable contractor estimate to be evaluated. Otherwise, it would delay the appeal process.
Rumor: I missed the deadline to file my appeal because I couldn’t get a verifiable contractor estimate. FEMA won’t consider my appeal after the 60-day grace period.
No, this is false. FEMA will consider your appeal after the 60-day grace period if you explain the valid reason for your appeal submission delay. Once you have all the documentation, including a verifiable contractor estimate, you can submit your appeal letter and may be considered for FEMA assistance.
Rumor: Appeal letters in Spanish sometimes take a little longer to process.
Yes, this is true in some cases. Once received, the translation team will translate the letter before uploading it to your case file for review, which may take a little longer to process. However, we work to review all appeals as quickly as possible, so do not be discouraged from filing your appeal.
Rumor: FEMA will stop providing assistance to Puerto Rico, due to lack of funds.
No, this is false. FEMA continues providing individual and public disaster assistance to meet the recovery needs of Puerto Rico.
Rumor: I’ll get more money and get it faster if I pay an attorney to help me with FEMA.
No. Both versions are False. (December 14)
Hiring a private attorney does not affect a survivor’s eligibility for disaster assistance; it does not affect the amount of money a survivor may be qualified for, does not make the process faster, and does not affect the outcome of any appeals of FEMA decisions.
Survivors can get free help with the application process at any Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) or through a toll free phone number. Some DRCs have Disaster Legal Services (DLS) staff who will provide free legal advice or referrals to provide help with many disaster and recovery related topics. Free legal advice is also available through a toll-free service. All services are available in English and Spanish.
Registering for Disaster Assistance: 1-800-621-3362, 7 a.m. – 11 p.m. seven days per week
Free Legal Advice: 1-800-310-7029, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday through Friday
DRC Locations can be found using the FEMA app, or by visiting egateway.fema.gov/ESF6/DRCLocator
Rumor: FEMA employees get paid per registration
No. This is False. (December 14)
There is no fee whatsoever to register for disaster assistance. FEMA staff neither charge a fee, nor earn commission for registering survivors. Ongoing communications challenges in U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico may make it difficult for survivors to register online or call our registration number; so FEMA staff are out in communities across the islands to help with registrations.
Clarification: Operation Blue Roof vs FEMA blue tarps
FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) are providing roof repair options for homeowners to protect their homes from further damage caused by wind and rain. (December 14)
Operation Blue Roof, managed by USACE, provides a temporary covering of reinforced blue plastic sheeting that may last up to 30 days, using strips of wood secured to the roof with nails or screws to help reduce further damage to property until permanent repairs can be. In order to be considered for this program, a homeowner/landlord must legally agree to allow the USACE contractors access to the property by signing a Right of Entry (ROE) form.
FEMA has free, large, blue sheets of waterproof material that can be tied to structures with grommets, often referred to as self-help tarps-available throughout local municipalities to homeowners for pickup. They help temporarily cover contents of damaged homes until permanent repairs can be made. The homeowner is responsible for installation of the self-help tarp. Residents who choose to use a self-help tarp may still be eligible for Operation Blue Roof.
The use of a self-help tarp or participating in the Operation Blue roof will not disqualify you from other forms of assistance.
For more information, refer to the following links:
https://www.fema.gov/news-release/2017/09/17/4337/frequently-asked-questions-about-operation-blue-roof, or http://www.sad.usace.army.mil/blueroof/
Rumor: The federal government is draining Lake Guajataca.
There are plans to drain the lake at Guajataca Dam. That is FALSE. (December 11)
There have been some planned, controlled water releases to bring the lake down to a safe and acceptable (dry season) level of 629 feet to 635 feet. The lake is being drawn down to a level designed to prevent overflow through the spillway (a channel constructed to carry away surplus water from a dam).
In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is assisting FEMA and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority in maintaining the dam’s water level within that range, limiting risk to downstream communities due to overflow.
Rumor: Disaster Legal Services Lawyers
Disaster Legal Services (DLS) are a part of FEMA and FEMA can see information you provide to DLS Lawyers. That is FALSE. (December 5)
Disaster Legal Services (DLS) is a service that is coordinated through a memorandum of agreement between the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division. Under the agreement, the Young Lawyers Division volunteers time and talent to provide free legal services to disaster survivors. They are not FEMA employees. Any services or conversations that occur between a survivor and one of these DLS attorneys are confidential; information will not be shared with FEMA. In addition, these legal services can be provided to the disaster survivor, regardless of whether they have registered with FEMA for disaster assistance. If the volunteer attorneys are unable to assist survivors with their legal needs, survivors will be referred to independent attorneys that can provide pro-bono or low-cost services.
Rumor: Sharing Application Information, Immigration Enforcement
FEMA will not proactively provide information gathered through these applications with ICE or CBP for immigration enforcement purposes; however, if a significant law enforcement interest exists (e.g. a national security case) for an individual whose information is contained therein, FEMA may share information with our law enforcement partners, within DHS per their request, in accordance with the intra-agency need to know exception to the general disclosure prohibition of the Privacy Act of 1974.
Scam: Shouldn’t the inspector have this information already?
A FEMA inspector texted me asking for my address. This is a Scam. (November 10)
FEMA inspectors will have your address from your FEMA disaster assistance application, and they may contact you for directions to your property. Before providing directions over the phone or via text message to an individual claiming to be a FEMA inspector, verify they are a FEMA inspector. To confirm, ask the individual to provide the name of their company, their inspector number, and your FEMA registration number. If they cannot answer these questions, do not provide your address, directions to your house, or any other information.
Find out if you have a pending inspection by calling the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362, or visit www.disasterassistance.gov/ and select "Review Status." Verify that your address is correct and provide specific directions to your property.
Alternatively, you can meet the inspector in a neutral location to verify they are a FEMA inspector. Ask to see their FEMA photo ID badge.
A FEMA inspector will not ask for personally identifiable information via text message. Do not provide any personal information, such as your social security number or bank account number.
To avoid delays in inspection, ensure your house or property number is clearly visible from the road.
Rumor: Receiving Money at DRCs
Can I get money at a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC)? This is FALSE. (November 5)
Disaster Recovery Centers do not manage, deliver, or provide funds/grants. A DRC is a place where the Government of Puerto Rico, FEMA and other agencies are available to answer questions and provide resources and information. Disaster survivors can also register and obtain information and assistance about available disaster recovery resources.
Rumor: How Many Times Should You Register to Get Disaster Assistance
Can I register for FEMA aid more than once? / Does registering multiple times make the process faster? This is FALSE. (November 5)
You only need to register once for federal disaster assistance. Registering for disaster assistance more than once will slow down any aid you may receive.
Scam: USACE Roof Installations
Is USACE charging for roof installations? This is a SCAM. (November 5)
Operation Blue Roof is a federally funded service to homeowners, performed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). There is no cost to the homeowner. If you are being asked to pay for this service, it is a SCAM. All USACE representatives will produce official identification. Follow these steps if you suspect any fraudulent activity:
- Do not respond to texts, phone calls or personal requests seeking your personal information. The only time you should provide personal information is during the initial application process for and federal help or when you initiate contact with federal officials to follow up on an application.
- Ask for identification and don’t be afraid to hang up on cold callers.
- Contact government agencies using information posted on their websites or on other official sources.
- Don’t sign contracts with blank spaces or anything you don’t understand.
If you suspect fraud, contact the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or report it to the Federal Trade Commission.
Rumor: Clarification on Federal roles in school openings
Does the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decide whether a school opens or remains closed? This is FALSE. (November 4)
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does not make the decision whether a school should open or stay closed. Their only role is to provide technical assistance for the structural integrity of school facilities. That information is then provided to the Puerto Rico Department of Education and with assessments from other Puerto Rico and local agencies, it is the Puerto Rico Department of Education who makes the final decision on whether or not to open a school.
Rumor: Survivors can still apply for a $500 Critical Needs Assistance (CNA) payment.
No. Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, FEMA expedited grants to assist survivors as quickly as possible. Critical Needs Assistance is part of the traditional FEMA grant process, meant to address immediate critical needs in the initial aftermath of disasters. This immediate cash payment is not a separate application from the normal FEMA assistance program, and is not additional assistance.
Survivors are still eligible for all benefits that they qualify for.
To find out how to apply for assistance, file an appeal, or answers to commonly asked questions, you may call 1-800-621-3362, or visit the nearest Disaster Recovery Center, apply online at www.disasterassistance.gov, or download our app at www.fema.gov/mobile-app. More answers questions related to the application process can be found at www.disasterassistance.gov/help.faqs.
Rumor: Disaster Clean-up and Inspections
There may be reports that disaster survivors should not remove flood-damaged sheetrock, flooring, carpet, etc. until the house is assessed by FEMA or insurance adjustors. This is FALSE.
Cleaning up and making temporary repairs to your storm-damaged property will not disqualify you from federal disaster assistance.
Property owners are encouraged to document storm damage to their properties – either with photographs or video – and to then begin cleaning up and making whatever temporary repairs are necessary to make their homes safe and habitable again. Put your health and safety first, take pictures of your damaged home, make repairs to prevent further damage to your property, and keep your receipts to show the inspector
Rumor: The U.S.N.S. Comfort is Not Available
The U.S.N.S. Comfort is not available for services in Puerto Rico. This is FALSE. (October 16)
The U.S.N.S. Comfort is accepting medical patients referred by Centro Medico from all parts of Puerto Rico. If a patient cannot receive adequate care at the hospitals near them, Centro Medico coordinates to transfer the patient to either:
1. a Puerto Rican hospital capable of providing the right care, or
2. the U.S.N.S. Comfort.
The Medical Operations Command at the FEMA headquarters in San Juan coordinates transport for critical patients to USNS Comfort.
Rumor: $500 for Small Businesses
A flyer was recently posted encouraging small business owners to apply to receive $500 of FEMA assistance. This is FALSE. (October 13)
This assistance is part of FEMA assistance through the Individuals and Households Program, and is intended for individuals and families, not businesses. To be considered for this assistance, individuals must first apply for FEMA assistance online through www.disasterassistance.gov or FEMA App, by calling FEMA Helpline (1-800-621-3362), or in person with a FEMA representative.
When individuals register with FEMA, they need to let them know if they have critical or emergency needs and that they are requesting financial help to cover those needs and expenses. The assistance that they may qualify for can include assistance for critical needs. This assistance is a one-time payment of $500 per household.
Businesses may apply for a disaster loan through the Small Business Administration (SBA). SBA helps businesses of all sizes, private non-profit organizations, homeowners and renters, which can cover the cost of replacing lost or disaster-damaged real estate and personal property not fully compensated by insurance. For more information on the loan application process, please call the Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 (800-877-8339 for the deaf and hard-of-hearing) or by send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rumor: FEMA Hiring in Puerto Rico
AM radio stations are broadcasting a message saying that FEMA is hiring, and that people should go the PREMA office in Zone 6, Ponce, Puerto Rico to apply. This is FALSE. (October 3)
FEMA is hiring, but does not have personnel in offices to meet or interview applicants. Until further notice, applicants should email resumes to email@example.com and include the words “Puerto Rico” in the subject line.
There is a rumor that FEMA is staging a hiring event today at the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel and Casino, 200 Convention Center Boulevard, San Juan, Puerto Rico. This is FALSE. (September 30)
There are no hiring events scheduled for today (9/30) in Puerto Rico. For future hiring, FEMA will use a paper and web-based process, with locations to be announced through a media release and/or flyer.
Rumor: FEMA is Transporting Donations
FEMA will move donations that have been collected for disaster survivors and transport them to their final destination. This is FALSE. (September 30)
FEMA does not collect or transport collected disaster donations. If you would like more information about responsible ways to donate, visit the National Organizations Active in Disasters Website at: www.nvoad.org/howtohelp/donate.
Rumor: FEMA Business Re-Entry List
There may be reports from businesses that a FEMA list exists that permits travel into the disaster areas. If a business is not on the list, they may not do business in the area. This is FALSE.
FEMA didn’t create a list like this. Public and business access into the disaster-impacted areas is solely at the discretion of local officials. Some flooded areas are now dry and available for the public to return, including businesses. However, some areas remain under curfew, some areas remain dangerous and inaccessible, and some areas are subject to new evacuation orders.
Before attempting to enter a disaster-impacted area, check with local officials.
Scam: Inspections or Contractor Repairs
There may be reports of FEMA inspectors asking for personal information or charging for services such as damage inspections or contractor repairs. This is a SCAM.
Scam artists may pose as government officials, aid workers, charitable organizations, or insurance company employees. Follow these steps:
- Do not respond to texts, phone calls or personal requests seeking your personal information. The only time you should provide personal information is during the initial application process for FEMA help or when you initiate contact with FEMA to follow up on an application. FEMA inspectors only require verification of identity.
- Ask for identification and don’t be afraid to hang up on cold callers.
- Contact government agencies using information posted on their websites or in other official sources.
- Don’t sign anything you don’t understand or contracts with blank spaces.
- If you suspect fraud, contact the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or report it to the Federal Trade Commission.
Rumor: Cholera Outbreak in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands
There has been speculation about cholera and its spread in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This is FALSE. (September 30)
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), cholera is rare in the United States and is not endemic to Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands. CDC does not anticipate that Hurricane Maria will result in cases of cholera in those areas due to there being no evidence of the disease on the islands prior to the storm hitting.
However, the risk of cases or outbreaks of other waterborne, foodborne, or diarrheal diseases is always elevated when there is limited access to safe drinking water, safe sanitation systems, and running water and soap for handwashing.
People in the affected areas should be careful and to avoid eating or drinking anything that has come into contact with flood water, which can cause diarrheal disease such as E. coli or Salmonella infection.
It is also important to boil or disinfect drinking water from unsafe sources, including streams, springs and wells that may have been contaminated by the heavy rains and floods.
More information is available via the Centers for Disease Control.
Rumor: Receiving Emails from “Send Word Now.com” and Text Messages
There are reports of individuals receiving emails from “@sendwordnow.com” regarding their applications for FEMA assistance. This email address is VALID. (September 25)
FEMA uses Send Word Now (SWN), a mass notification service provider, to help us communicate with disaster survivors regarding their registration for FEMA assistance. The notifications will come in the form of phone calls, emails, and/or text messages. Below are the addresses or numbers that are associated with each form of communication.
- Email Address: Federal Emergency Management Agency PHXfirstname.lastname@example.org
- Text Message: 821-04 or 386-71
- Phone: 1-800-621-3362; 1-866-337-9322
Rumor: Militia in Ponce, Puerto Rico
There are rumors that local police in or near Ponce have walked off the job and a local militia has taken over security in the area. This is FALSE. (September 30)
Local police in Ponce are still in the area and have maintained their control of the area.
Rumor: FEMA Gas Rationing in Puerto Rico
There are rumors that FEMA is rationing gasoline in Puerto Rico. This is FALSE. (September 23)
FEMA does not have the authority to limit the amount of fuel for public consumption or purchase.