On September 21, President Trump issued a Declaration of Disaster for Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. One effect of this declaration is to make the island eligible for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Assistance is available for people residing in Aguas Buenas, Aibonito, Arecibo, Arroyo, Barceloneta, Barranquitas, Bayamón, Caguas , Canóvanas, Carolina, Cataño, Cayey, Ceiba, Ciales, Cidra, Coamo, Comerio, Corozal, Culebra, Dorado, Fajardo, Florida, Guayama, Guaynabo, Gurabo, Humacao, Jayuya, Juana Díaz, Juncos, Las Piedras, Loíza, Luquillo, Manati, Maunabo, Morovis, Naguabo, Naranjito, Orocovis, Patillas, Ponce, Rio Grande, Salinas, San Juan, San Lorenzo, Santa Isabel, Toa Baja, Toa Alta, Trujillo Alto, Utuado, Vega Alta, Vega Baja, Vieques, Villalba, and Yabucoa. Additional areas may be added to the declaration after assessments of those areas have been made.
Are You Eligible for Assistance?
FEMA grants may be used for temporary housing and home repairs and for some other disaster-related expenses. These may include medical and dental costs, child care expenses, funeral and burial costs, the replacement of essential household items, moving and storage fees, and the expense of purchasing some clean-up items.
These grants do not have to be repaid and are available to both renters and homeowners.
Receipt of a FEMA grant has no effect on your eligibility for other aid programs, such as food stamps, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits. Grants are not considered taxable income and will therefore have no effect on your income tax refund. FEMA grants also cover qualifying emergency expenditures you have already made, provided you can show receipts and other documentation.
FEMA will not issue grants to cover losses that are covered by insurance, such as by homeowners or auto policies. However, since many storm-related losses may not be fully covered by insurance, it’s a good idea to file an application even if you have insurance. Once it becomes clear which losses are insured and which losses are not, FEMA can make the appropriate determination regarding your grant.
FEMA also provides low-cost loans to businesses to cover uninsured property losses. These loans, which are made through the Small Business Administration (SBA), do have to be repaid.
How Do You Apply?
Applications for assistance may be made online (Español aquí) or by phone at 800-621-3362 / TTY 800-462-7585. Applications are taken from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time and must be made within sixty days of the occurrence of the date of the disaster. It’s very important that only one application be made per household. Multiple applications from the same household may actually slow down the grant process
People applying for aid will need to supply FEMA with the following information:
• Social Security number
• Address where the damage occurred (your pre-disaster address)
• Current mailing address
• Current telephone number
• Insurance information
• Total household annual income
• Routing and account number for your checking or savings account (this allows FEMA to directly transfer disaster assistance funds into your bank account).
• A description of your disaster-caused damage and losses
What Happens Then?
Following receipt of your application, FEMA will contact you within about ten days to schedule an inspection of your residence. Once the inspection has taken place, a determination of your eligibility and benefits will be made, again usually with ten days. Checks or direct deposits will be issued shortly after that.
There is also an appeal process for those who believe they have been wrongfully denied FEMA benefits.
It’s very important to document your losses from the storm. Take many photos of your residence and the damage to it. Save all receipts for disaster-related expenses. Keep a journal of events, i.e., what happened when. All of this information will help speed your FEMA application through the system.