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Filing for Federal Disaster Assistance: Tips for Homeowners

A core part of Self-Help’s work is helping more families become, and remain, successful homeowners. When a home is damaged by hurricanes, fires or any other natural disaster, we understand the losses can be devastating.

For disaster-related expenses, homeowners insurance and flood insurance (for those who have it) will likely be the largest source of funds. Affected families also may request disaster relief funds through the federal government—the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Important: To protect your eligibility for relief, you must register with FEMA within 60 days of your county’s Major Disaster Declaration. 

Disaster Relief

For homeowners pursuing federal disaster relief, we have compiled some detailed tips on getting federal assistance and information on the process and what to expect. Here are just a few key points:

  1. File a homeowners claim (and flood claim, if applicable) with your existing insurers as soon as possible to protect your eligibility for FEMA and SBA assistance.
  2. Don’t wait for a decision on your homeowners insurance—register with FEMA at the same time. See contact information below.
  3. Call your mortgage servicer (the company that receives your mortgage payments) to inform them about any insurance claims.
  4. Take pictures of all damage sustained and don’t throw anything away until FEMA has inspected your property. 
  5. Keep receipts for your expenses, including hotels and supplies, as you may need them for at least three years to document your expenses.  
  6. After registering with FEMA, you will likely receive a loan application from SBA in the mail. Please fill out the application, even if you do not want the loan. Doing so keeps all of your options open and make sure that you are eligible for all aspects of FEMA aid.

FEMA Registration

Register with FEMA at, or call the FEMA toll-free helpline at 800-621-3362 between 7 AM and 10 PM (TTY: 800-462-7585). Multilingual operators are available (for Spanish, press 2).  You may also register at a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC). To find the nearest one, go online to the DRC locator at