Where to Find Emergency Financial Help After a Storm

You never know when you’re going to need emergency financial help in the aftermath of a tropical storm or hurricane. Admittedly, much thought goes into how to prepare for storms and how to cope during their passage. But there needs to be a forceful link between ex-ante and ex-post options. We have seen billions and trillions of dollars spent on disaster recovery and rebuilding efforts in countries along the tropical hurricane belt, from Barbados to the United States. But this somehow pales to the amount of funding available for mitigation and preparation efforts.

Disaster relief funding is used to rebuild and improve infrastructure; cover basic needs of affected residents; fund the construction of homes and rental of temporary lodgings; provide food and water and pay bills. This money often comes from governments, disaster agencies, non-profit organisations, charities and charitable donors, churches and other service institutions.

But sometimes in the chaos that ensues after a tropical storm or hurricane has impacted an area, there may be some confusion. People may not be sure about who they should contact or the type of assistance that is available to them.

Sources of Emergency Financial Help

There are many financial resources available to disaster survivors in their time of need. FEMA outlines specific emergency financial assistance options in its publication Sources of Financial Help After a Disaster.  Whilst some of the information might be tailored for residents in the United States and its territories, the content is relevant for the Caribbean as well. For Caribbean residents, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) has provided a list of the international agencies that provide funds earmarked for climate change and disaster management initiatives before and after natural disasters.

The types of funding available below shows that there is a vast range of assistance available, especially if you know where to look.

Insurance

If you have a pre-existing insurance policy, you may be able to file claims for the damage your property received. Because there are so many different types of insurance that cover so many different catastrophes, you should confirm that your specific problem is covered. If you’re in the market for home insurance, one point to note is that depending where you live, homeowner insurance and flood insurance are separate policies. Do not assume that either of these policies covers the other.

Disaster Loans

You may qualify for a disaster loan from different agencies if you meet their specific eligibility requirements. The Small Business Administration is one of those agencies that offers emergency financial help in the form of disaster loans. Pay outs are capped at $200,000 for repairs to primary housing and up to $40,000 on personal property (clothing, furniture, appliances and vehicles) that have been damaged.

Voluntary Agencies

Voluntary and or private sector agencies may step in to offer additional assistance if your needs are not met after utilising other emergency financial help options. These agencies may provide emergency food, shelter, clothing and medical assistance in the aftermath of the tropical storm or hurricane.

How to Determine Eligibility for Financial Assistance After a Disaster

Different programmes have different eligibility requirements for financial assistance after a disaster. For federal disaster assistance, you must reside within a region that “has been declared a disaster zone by the federal government.” The amount of financial assistance that you may receive will depend on the type of disaster and its severity. However, if the damages sustained are covered by insurance, you will not receive financial assistance from the federal government.

To be eligible for FEMA’s Individual Assistance grants, applicants must meet the following conditions.

  • The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien
  • FEMA must be able to verify the applicant’s identity
  • The applicant’s insurance, or other forms of disaster assistance received, cannot meet their disaster-caused needs
  • The applicant’s necessary expenses and serious needs are directly caused by a declared disaster

If the applicant does not meet the above conditions, the following emergency disaster relief programmes may be able to offer assistance:

  • Voluntary Agency Assistance
  • Disaster Legal Services (DLS)
  • Emergency Assistance (sheltering, feeding, etc.)

To apply for disaster assistance from FEMA, click here.

How Post-Disaster Financing is Activated

Hammett and Mixter (2017)  mention that financing after disasters requires new models with less obstacles and those that can provide lessons learned solutions which can be easily replicated. This is against the backdrop of observations by Mahul & Ghesquiere (2010) that post-disaster financing “tends to be slowly activated.” These challenges may be caused by delays in legislation, a lack of products that match post-disaster needs, unavailability of funding and poor disaster response timing.

However, the disaster cycle is often wrapped up in challenges encountered in accessing emergency disaster funds. According to the authors, the disaster cycle consists of activities that fall under “Before Event” and “After Event” categories. Before Event activities include mitigation, preparation and warning activities, whilst After Event activities include response, reconstruction and recovery.

Hamett and Mixter (2017) further explain that funding available for disasters includes risk transfer; credit; grants and aid; remittances; and other/ hybrid options:

  • Risk transfer, which is largely enacted before an event, includes insurance which may facilitate pay outs based on “pre-defined threshold measurements”
  • Effective credit options are activated in a timely manner and provide funding in a timely manner and without layers of red tape.
  • Grants and aid to be paid out after a disaster depend on how quickly post-disaster needs assessments can be completed.
  • Remittances from family members may be short term and depend on families’ ability to provide the financial assistance.

Five Organisations that Provide Financial Assistance After a Storm

In addition to the governmental agencies mentioned throughout this article, there are several non-profit organisations that provide assistance after tropical storms, hurricanes and other natural or man-made disasters.

Residents in hurricane prone areas must take responsibility for enacting their own precautions before the natural disaster occurs. Even though there are several options for emergency financial help in the aftermath of natural disasters, research has shown that relief may not be timely and it may not cover all of your needs as you would like.

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