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Following a disaster, residents may be misled by half-truths and rumors they hear about the various assistance programs. Misinformation can hinder someone who is on the road to recovery. 

According to state and federal officials, the best way for disaster victims to obtain accurate information is to call the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) teleregistration line during evening or weekend hours. (See number below). 

Some facts disaster victims should know: 

Q. Do I have to wait for an inspector to visit my property before I begin cleaning up?

A. Do not delay cleaning up. Mold growth is common in flood-damaged homes. It is important to clean and dry completely any areas that have gotten wet. Try to photograph the damage or otherwise document what was damaged or lost because of floodwaters. To avoid health problems from mold and mildew, begin the clean-up process as soon as possible. 

Q. I have insurance. Is there any other help available to me?

A. Insurance is your main source for money to put your life back in order after a disaster. But there are many things that insurance does not cover. That is where federal and state disaster programs may be able to help. You may find that you are under insured and disaster assistance may help make up the difference. 

Q. Do I have to wait for my insurance adjuster before I apply for disaster assistance or make repairs? 

A. You do not have to wait for an agent or adjuster’s inspection before applying for aid or making repairs needed to make your house safe, sanitary and functional. However, if you have insurance, you should find out what your policy covers, and be sure to keep papers and receipts for any work. FEMA will not duplicate your insurance. But if you still have unmet disaster-related needs, you should call FEMA to apply. You could qualify for reimbursement of expenses not covered by your insurance. 

Q. I got help from the American Red Cross. Can I still apply to FEMA or the state?

A. FEMA and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) coordinate a number of programs to help disaster victims. These programs are different from the emergency food, clothing and shelter initially provided by the American Red Cross and other voluntary agencies. Registration with the American Red Cross is not the same as applying with FEMA. For federal and state disaster assistance, you must apply by calling the toll-free application number 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585 for those with a speech or hearing impairment. Now, disaster victims can register online by going to

Q. Do I have to be under a certain income level to apply for disaster assistance?

A. Federal and state disaster assistance programs may be available to those who suffered damage, regardless of income. The programs are not “welfare.” The kinds of help provided depend on the applicant’s circumstances and unmet needs. 

Q. Do I have to be turned down by my bank before I can apply for disaster assistance?

A. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which handles low-interest loans, has its own criteria for determining each loan applicant’s eligibility. The SBA will decide whether or not you are able to repay a loan. If you are not qualified for a loan, you may be eligible for other assistance, but it is necessary to go through the SBA application process first. 

Q. Must I own a business before applying for a loan from the SBA?

A. In a presidential declaration, SBA is the primary source of financial assistance. Renters and homeowners may be eligible for low-interest loans for home or personal property losses, based on the type and extent of uninsured or under insured disaster-related losses. 

Q. I rent an apartment. Can I still get help to replace my damaged property? 

A. A renter may qualify for an SBA low-interest disaster loan or a cash grant to replace personal property. One type of grant may be available to an eligible individual or families with serious disaster-related needs and expenses that are not covered by insurance or other disaster assistance programs. 

Q. If I am self-employed and out of work, can I still qualify for unemployment benefits?

A. Disaster unemployment assistance, funded by FEMA and administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, provides benefits for workers who would not normally qualify for unemployment compensation, including farmers, farm workers and those who are self-employed. Anyone interested in filing for disaster unemployment assistance should visit the nearest employment services office.

On March 1, 2003, FEMA became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. FEMA's continuing mission within the new department is to lead the effort to prepare the nation for all hazards and effectively manage federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident. FEMA also initiates proactive mitigation activities, trains first responders, and manages the National Flood Insurance Program and the U.S. Fire Administration.