Even before Hurricane Harvey made landfall, a disaster declaration covering six counties already had President Donald Trump’s signature on it, opening the door for Texas residents to get federal recovery funds as soon as possible.
Federal disaster assistance won’t solve everything — it’s meant to helpful in recovery, not to put everything back the way it was before the hurricane hit — but sooner is better when it comes to getting money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
To get FEMA disaster relief money, the steps are simple but crucial: register, get inspected, get your grant. There’s a half step in there, too: after inspection, be sure to stay in touch and reachable. Most grants that go un-awarded sit because the agency can’t get a hold of the recipients, according to FEMA fact sheets.
“When you get a letter from FEMA, read it carefully. If you have any questions, call the FEMA Helpline, 1-800-621-3362; TTY users can call 1-800-462-7585,” the agency’s website says.
FEMA disaster assistance is tax-free, and grants are just that – grants, not loans that have to be repaid. But funds can only be used for specific disaster-related expenses. Federal funds can be used for home repairs; car repair or replacement; clothing and specialized tool repair, replacement or cleaning; moving and storage expenses; and rental assistance for post-disaster temporary housing.
Disaster grants cannot be used for regular living expenses, such as utilities, food, travel, entertainment or any other expenses not related to the disaster. Those caught misusing funds may have to pay them back, the agency warns, and FEMA can audit grant recipients up to three years after the money has been doled out.