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Did You Receive Disaster Assistance from FEMA? Spend It Wisely and Well

Release date: 
January 28, 2019
Release Number: 
DR-4407-CA NR 041

SACRAMENTO, Calif. ─ Disaster Assistance grants should be used only for disaster-related expenses. That’s the word from state emergency management officials at Cal OES and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

While money received from FEMA for repairs to your home due to damage caused by November’s wildfires is tax free and the grants do not have to be repaid, survivors are reminded to use their funds wisely and solely for recovery.

When a grant is awarded, FEMA sends a letter listing examples of approved uses that include home repair, rental assistance for a different place to live temporarily, repair or replacement of a fire-damaged essential vehicle, medical care for a fire-related injury or other disaster-related expenses. Disaster grants should not be used for regular living expenses, such as utility bills, food, medical or dental expenses not related to the wildfires, travel, entertainment, or any other discretionary expenses not disaster-related.

"It’s important that individuals who suffered damages spend the money according to their specific grant," said FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer David G. Samaniego. "A letter explaining the purpose for the grant will be sent. Applicants should call the FEMA Helpline (800-621-3362) if they have questions or need more information."

FEMA advises survivors to read the letter carefully, as it explains ways in which the grant money should be used. Recipients should keep receipts from all purchases to show how funds were spent.

Home repair grants and rental assistance from FEMA do not require applicants to apply for a low-interest disaster loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). However, an applicant must complete an SBA low-interest disaster loan application to be eligible for additional assistance under the Other Needs Assistance (ONA) program. ONA may cover personal property, vehicle repair or replacement, moving and storage expenses, childcare, medical and dental expenses, and funeral and burial expenses.

Survivors with questions regarding their application or who have not yet registered for assistance should visit or call the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362. (TTY 800-462-7585). The toll-free lines are open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (PST) seven days a week. Multilingual operators are available.

Survivors may apply for low-interest disaster loans with SBA at their nearest Disaster Recovery Center (DRC), apply online at, or contact SBA’s Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center by calling 800-659-2955 for more information.

The deadline to register with FEMA for disaster assistance is Jan. 31.


All FEMA disaster assistance will be provided without discrimination on the grounds of race, color, sex (including sexual harassment), religion, national origin, age, disability, limited English proficiency, economic status, or retaliation. If you believe your civil rights are being violated, call 800-621-3362 or 800-462-7585(TTY/TDD).

FEMA’s mission: Helping people before, during and after disasters.

The SBA is the federal government’s primary source of money for the long-term rebuilding of disaster-damaged private property. SBA helps businesses of all sizes, private nonprofit organizations, homeowners and renters fund repairs or rebuilding efforts and cover the cost of replacing lost or disaster-damaged personal property. These disaster loans cover losses not fully compensated by insurance or other recoveries and do not duplicate benefits of other agencies or organizations. For more information, applicants may contact SBA’s Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center by calling 800-659-2955, emailing, or visiting SBA’s website at Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals may call 800-877-8339.

Last Updated: 
January 28, 2019 - 15:41