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Individual Assistance

Large events may result in federal assistance to individuals, households, and businesses. Following a declared disaster, Federal assistance will normally come from two sources:

  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency's Individuals and Households Grant Program
  • The U.S. Small Business Administration

In certain circumstances, a disaster may also result in assistance from other federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In smaller events such as fires or localized flooding, Pennsylvania's volunteer and nonprofit organizations may be able to offer immediate assistance. PA 211's website includes a search engine to find assistance from volunteer, nonprofit, and non-government organizations in your area. The search engine will provide a list of organizations sorted by distance from your location.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can provide assistance (PDF) following disasters in the form of casualty loss claims. In a disaster for which there is no presidential declaration, these claims must be applied to the household or business tax return for the year in which they occurred. In the event of a Presidential Declaration of Major Disaster, the IRS permits applicants to file an amendment to tax return filed within the last three years in order to receive a near immediate refund of casualty loss. Find IRS casualty loss policies and procedures (PDF).

A useful resource for locating replacement permanent housing is Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency's website.

Report Damages to County EMA

In all cases, it is vital that individuals and businesses affected by a disaster, no matter how small or localized, immediately report their damages to their county emergency management agency (EMA). Find your county emergency management coordinator (PDF).

Reporting damages to your county has two purposes.

  1. There may be county or region specific services available for assistance, and
  2. An accurate and timely assessment of the scope of damages in a disaster will help PEMA to determine and request any federal assistance that the event may be eligible for.

Additionally, Individual Assistance coordinates closely with government and nongovernment partner agencies for training and readiness in support of effective emergency human services in the immediate response to disasters. Following the model of inclusive emergency planning, PEMA's sample checklist provides a comprehensive self assessment that any jurisdiction or organization with an emergency operations plan (EOP) can use to ensure that their plans adequately address assistance to people with disabilities and other access and functional needs.

In order to better prepare planners for inclusive plan development, FEMA's Emergency Management Institute has introduced a free, online course -- IS-368: Including People with Disabilities and Other Access and Functional Needs in Disaster Operations.

FEMA's Individuals and Households Program

Following a large scale event, normally affecting multiple counties, the president may make a Federal Declaration of Major Disaster. Should a declaration providing for Individual Assistance be made, FEMA's Individuals and Households Program may provide up to $35,500 (amount updated annually on October 1) of assistance to qualified households.

The Individuals and Households Program has two components:

  1. Housing Assistance, which provides for repairs to damaged homes, and
  2. Other Needs Assistance, which provides for replacement of essential goods and services such as vehicles, essential appliances, and child care.

Following a Presidential Declaration of Major Disaster, instructions for FEMA registration will be promulgated by news and press releases. Additionally,  in counties which have been included in a Major Declaration for Individual Assistance, FEMA and Pennsylvania's commonwealth agencies will establish a joint Disaster Recovery Center, a single location where affected individuals can register for federal assistance and receive other vital services from commonwealth agencies such as drivers' license replacement, issue of drinking water test kits, and assistance with insurance claims.

U.S. Small Business Administration Resources

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) serves as the federal disaster bank for homeowners, renters, businesses, and some non-profit entities in the wake of hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes, and other physical disasters. 

Due to a lower level of damages required for a disaster declaration by the SBA, usually confined to a specific community or county, disaster declarations by the SBA are more common than Federal Declarations of Major Disaster for smaller events such as major fires, localized flooding, and events disrupting business and commerce.

Home Disaster Loans

Once a disaster has been declared, those who suffered uninsured or underinsured losses may be eligible for Home Disaster Loans made to homeowners or renters to repair or replace damaged real estate or personal property.  Renters are eligible for loans to cover personal property losses.

Individuals may borrow up to $200,000 to repair or replace real estate, $40,000 to cover losses to personal property, and an additional 20 percent for mitigation.  

Refinancing of existing loans is sometimes possible. Interest rates are usually 4 percent or lower, with up to 30-year repayment terms, based on the applicant’s ability to repay.  In some cases, the loans could be as high as 8 percent. By law, the determination of interest rates depends on whether the applicant has credit available elsewhere.

Business Physical Disaster Loans

Loans may be made to businesses to repair or replace disaster damages to property owned by the business, including real estate, machinery and equipment, inventory, and supplies. Businesses of any size are eligible. Non-profit organizations such as charities, churches, private universities, etc. are also eligible.

Economic Injury Disaster Loans

Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) provide necessary working capital until normal operations resume after a physical disaster. These loans are restricted, by law, to small businesses only.

Employers of Military Reservists deployed on active duty may be eligible for assistance available under the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan (MREIDL) program.

Open Disaster Declarations

Find a complete listing of current SBA declarations in the commonwealth.   

SBA/Individual Assessment Forms can be found at our website.

Disaster Declaration Criteria

In any county or other small political subdivision of a state, at least 25 homes or 25 businesses, or a combination of at least 25 homes, businesses, or other eligible institutions, have each sustained uninsured losses of 40 percent or more of the estimated fair replacement value or pre-disaster fair market value of the damaged property, whichever is lower.

In any such political subdivision, at least three businesses each sustain uninsured losses of 40 percent or more of their estimated fair replacement value or pre-disaster fair market value of the damaged property, whichever is lower, and as a direct result of the physical damage, 25 percent or more of the work force in the community would be unemployed for at least 90 days.   

Economic Injury Disaster Loan

The request for a PDL must be made within 60 days of the incident period of the disaster. A qualification for a PDL automatically includes qualification for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL).

The criteria for EIDL requires that the governor must certify to SBA that at least five small business concerns, including small nurseries or agricultural cooperatives, in a disaster area have suffered substantial economic injury as a result of the disaster and are in need of financial assistance not otherwise available on reasonable terms.

The governor’s request for an EIDL designation must be made within 120 days of the incident period of the disaster, which caused the economic injury.  

Individual Assistance Contacts

Remember -- SBA disaster loans cover uninsured or underinsured losses only.  

For further information, contact your county emergency management coordinator (PDF), or contact PEMA’s Individual Assistance Office by calling 717-651-2153 or 800-635-9692.

Written requests for additional information may be forwarded to Steve Michelone, PEMA Individual Assistance Program, 1310 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg, PA 17110.