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Public Assistance: Local, State, Tribal and Private Non-Profit

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, as Amended (Stafford Act), Title 42 of the United States Code (U.S.C.) § 5121 et seq., authorizes the President to provide Federal assistance when the magnitude of an incident or threatened incident exceeds the affected State, Territorial, Indian Tribal, and local government capabilities to respond or recover.

The purpose of the Public Assistance (PA) Grant Program is to support communities’ recovery from major disasters by providing them with grant assistance for debris removal, life-saving emergency protective measures, and restoring public infrastructure. Local governments, states, tribes, territories and certain private nonprofit organizations are eligible to apply.

Public Assistance is FEMA's largest grant program. Since 2017, FEMA gave over five billion dollars through PA grants to help communities clear debris and rebuild roads, schools, libraries, and other public facilities.

Program Overview

FEMA’s Public Assistance Program provides supplemental grants to state, tribal, territorial, and local governments, and certain types of private non-profits so that communities can quickly respond to and recover from major disasters or emergencies. FEMA also encourages protection of these damaged facilities from future events by providing assistance for hazard mitigation measures during the recovery process. More detailed information can also be located in the FEMA Public Assistance Program and Policy Guide.

The Life of a PA Grant

The PA Program follows FEMA's common set of phases known as the Grants Management Life Cycle:

  • Pre-Award: Applicants work with the Recipient and FEMA to develop the award package for a grant.
  • Award: FEMA approves the award package and allocates funding.
  • Post-Award: Funds are released to the Recipients who must maintain, monitor, and report upon.
  • Closeout: FEMA administers performance evaluation, financial and appeal reconciliation, final reporting activities, appeal resolution and debt actions.
  • Post-Closeout: As necessary, FEMA performs debt collection actions, audit, and other adjustments may continue after grant closeout.

Declaration Process

The PA Grant Program begins with the Declaration Process when an area has received a Presidential declaration of an emergency or major disaster. Applicants will coordinate with the Recipient and FEMA to complete their award package during the Pre-Award phase of the grant lifecycle.

Incident occurs. Pre-declaration begins with preliminary damage assessment, state/territory/tribe submits declaration request within 30 days of incident, then presidential declaration. Applicant collaboration is when the recipient conducts applicant briefings, applicants submit requests for public assistance, fema approves the request, fema conducts recovery scoping meetings within 21 days of request. Subaward formulation is when applicants identify and reports all damage within 60 days of recovery scoping meeting, develop project scope of work and costs, fema and the recipient conduct the exit briefing. Finally, subaward funding occurs when fema obligates funds to recipient, subrecipient completes work and requests closeout of projects, recipient certifies completion within 180 days of project completion and fema closes projects. Fema closes the subrecipient and then the disaster award program.
PA Program flowchart providing general overview. Download Original

Roles and Responsibilities

Multiple layers of government work in partnership to administer the PA Grant Program once a disaster has been declared. Each entity must work together to meet the overall objective of a quick, efficient, and effective program delivery.

FEMA's primary responsibilities are to determine the amount of funding, participate in educating the applicant on specific program issues and procedures, assist the applicant with the development of projects, and review the projects for compliance.

  • FEMA: The federal awarding agency authorized to manage the program.
  • Recipients: The State, Territorial, or Tribal government that receives funding under the disaster declaration and disburses funding to approved subrecipients.
  • Applicants: Entities submitting a request for assistance under the recipient's federal award.
  • Subrecipients: Applicants who have received a subaward from the Recipient and is then bound by the conditions of the award and subaward.

What's Eligible

Pyramid on the left shows the order of significance in determining program eligibility for an applicant, facility, type of work, and cost. Chart on the right shows the classification of emergency work and permanent work. Emergency work address immediate threats to include category A for debris removal and category B for emergency protective measures. Permanent work is the restoration of categories C through G for roads and bridges, water control facilities, buildings and equipment, utilities, and parks, recreational, and other facilities.
Pyramid on the left shows the order in determining program eligibility for an applicant, facility, type of work, and cost. Chart on the right shows the classification of emergency work and permanent work. Download Original

The four basic components of eligibility are applicant, facility, work, and cost.

  • An Applicant must be a state, territory, tribe, local government, private nonprofit organization.
  • A Facility must be a building, public works, system, equipment, or natural feature.
  • Work is categorized as either Emergency or Permanent. It must be required as a result of the declared incident, located within the designated disaster area, and the legal responsibility of the Applicant.
  • Cost is the funding tied directly to eligible work, and must be adequately documented, authorized, necessary and reasonable. Eligible costs include labor, equipment, materials, contract work, as well as direct and indirect administrative costs.

Project Timelines

Projects must be completed within the Regulatory deadlines. Emergency Work must be completed within six months; Permanent Work within 18 months. Applicants may submit a request in writing to the Recipient for consideration of a time extension.


The federal share of assistance is not less than 75 percent of the eligible cost. The Recipient determines how the non-federal share (up to 25 percent) is split with the sub-recipients (i.e. eligible applicants).

Special Considerations

Applicants may not duplicate benefits with insurance and must comply with Environmental, Historic Preservation, and Floodplain Management laws as part of the eligibility conditions. Procurement standards in the use of contracts for acquiring disaster-related goods and services must meet certain guidelines in order to receive funding.

Fact Sheets

Last Updated: 
04/17/2020 - 15:23