The summer and fall months of hurricane season can be a stressful time for Florida families — major storms often leave behind a path of destruction, with total losses commonly in the billions. The road to recovery can be long and arduous, with many Floridians left dealing with the aftermath long after the hurricane leaves the news cycle.
As government agencies respond to disasters, it is critical that public resources are utilized to ensure an equitable recovery — one that rebuilds what was lost and damaged, and one that also strengthens Florida’s communities and the environment to withstand future disasters.
Below are resources that may be mobilized by federal, state, and local government agencies to provide relief to Floridians affected by hurricanes. As policymakers assess impacts and implement recovery efforts, agencies will respond by making changes to policies and programs, often on a daily or even hourly basis.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
FEMA, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is the primary federal agency to provide assistance before, during, and after disasters. Florida is located within FEMA’s Region 4 office, headquartered in Atlanta, GA. Governors make requests for major disaster or emergency declarations through the regional FEMA office. Once a declaration is made, the state and residents can access an array of assistance and services. FEMA disaster assistance is provided under three broad categories:
- individuals and households, for housing, business recovery, unemployment assistance, and other needs;
- public entities, including certain nonprofit organizations, for repair and rebuilding public facilities and infrastructure; and
- hazard mitigation to gird against future disasters and potential losses.
This blog will focus on FEMA assistance commonly available to individuals and households.
Note on eligibility: For most assistance from FEMA (e.g., cash assistance, including Disaster Unemployment Assistance), applicants must be a U.S. Citizen, Non-Citizen National, or a Qualified Alien to qualify. Anyone can apply for and receive FEMA-funded Crisis Counseling, Disaster Legal Services, and short-term, non-cash, emergency aid regardless of their immigration status if otherwise eligible. Ineligible immigrants can apply for FEMA assistance on behalf of their U.S. citizen child or another adult household member.
To apply for FEMA assistance, individuals normally can visit disasterassistance.gov, use the FEMA mobile app, or call 1-800-621-3362 or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY). In most disasters, applications can also be made in person at Disaster Recovery Centers.
Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs)
DRCs are mobile or brick-and-mortar locations within affected communities where hurricane survivors can apply for FEMA assistance or check on existing FEMA applications. In addition, DRCs are often staffed with other agencies and nonprofit organizations that can provide other kinds of assistance with disaster recovery.
Homeowners and renters affected by a hurricane in counties designated for financial and direct services may apply for FEMA disaster assistance at www.disasterassistance.gov, by calling 800-621-FEMA (3362), or by using the FEMA App.
FEMA disaster assistance may include financial help with temporary lodging and home repairs, as well as other disaster-related expenses for damage and losses not covered by homeowners, renters, or flood insurance. This includes: temporary housing, damage repair not covered by insurance, funds to replace damaged homes, and grants for the construction of a new home (in very limited circumstances). The following information will be required when applying:
- a current phone number where you can be contacted
- your address at the time of the disaster and the address where you are now staying
- your Social Security Number
- a general list of damage and losses
- banking information if you choose direct deposit
- if insured, the policy number or the agent and/or the company name
If you have homeowners, renters, or flood insurance, you should file a claim immediately. FEMA cannot duplicate benefits for losses already covered by insurance. If your policy does not cover all your disaster expenses, you may be eligible for federal assistance.Take photos to document damage and begin cleanup and repairs to prevent further damage. Remember to keep receipts from all purchases related to the cleanup and repair.
Information on filing a flood claim through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) can be found here. You must have a policy through the NFIP to file a claim.
Operation Blue Roof
Operation Blue Roof is a priority mission managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for FEMA. The purpose of Operation Blue Roof is to provide homeowners and permanently occupied rental properties in disaster areas with fiber-reinforced sheeting to cover their damaged roofs until arrangements can be made for permanent repairs. This is a free service to homeowners.
Other FEMA Assistance
- personal property (clothing; household items; tools, clothing and equipment required for employment; computers, books, supplies, etc., required for school)
- transportation (including repair or replacement of vehicles, and public transportation costs)
- funeral expenses
- moving and storage expenses
- some medical and dental expenses
- child care
- clean up items
Disaster Legal Services Advice Hotline
The Disaster Legal Services Advice Hotline is a FEMA-funded free legal aid hotline for disaster-related problems for disaster survivors who cannot afford an attorney. The hotline number will be announced when the hotline is activated. Normally, callers will be instructed to say that they are seeking storm-related legal assistance, indicate the county in which they are located, and state their legal problem(s). Among the many legal issues that callers may be able to get help with are FEMA benefits, home repairs contracts, insurance claims, wills, scams, landlord/tenant problems, and access to disaster assistance.
Florida Housing Finance Corporation
The Florida Housing Finance Corporation provides families with information on housing resources and assistance.
- In most disasters, the Florida Housing Corporation ensures that all listings are up to date in the event that a family has been displaced and needs to quickly relocate. To find an affordable rental property, click here. If you do not have internet access, you may also call the following toll-free number for assistance in conducting a search: 1-877-428-8844.
- If your home sustained damage as a result of a hurricane, your local State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) office may have recovery assistance available to help with temporary relocation, rental assistance, debris removal and/or home repairs. Please contact your local office directly for more information. You can find your local office by clicking here.
Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO)
DEO is the lead state agency focused on economic development. DEO administers the state’s Unemployment Insurance program, among other programs aimed at business development, community development and planning, and workforce development and statistics.
Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA)
Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) provides unemployment assistance to people in FEMA disaster-declared counties whose employment or self-employment has been impacted as a direct result of a disaster if they are not eligible for regular Unemployment Insurance (UI).
Normally, eligible workers include but are not limited to people who are self-employed and gig and part-time workers as well as workers who have already exhausted their regular Reemployment Assistance (RA). Generally, citizens and immigrants who have work authorization can collect DUA. More detailed eligibility criteria is here.
Applicants must file for state Reemployment Assistance benefits first, before filing for DUA. During the application, claimants should note whether their work has been impacted by the disaster. If applicants are determined ineligible for Reemployment Assistance, DEO will automatically prompt them to file a DUA application if they said that their job was impacted by the disaster.
Local CareerSource Centers should have additional information about DUA, including eligibility criteria and the link to apply..
Depending on the scope of the disaster, DEO may temporarily waive the following Reemployment Assistance requirements in FEMA disaster-declared counties:
- work-search reporting
- the wait week
- Employ Florida registration requirements
Florida Department of Children and Families
DCF provides a range of social services to children, adults, and families in Florida. This includes programs to support household and family self-sufficiency through economic support, programs to address homelessness, services for refugees, and administering public benefits.
Safety Net Work Requirements
In some disasters, DCF will temporarily waive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) work requirements.
SNAP and TANF Interview Requirements
In addition, DCF often waives interview requirements for food and cash assistance to assist with hurricane recovery. In the past, the only exceptions to this waiver were cases in which information was questionable or the household had not provided mandatory verifications, such as income, citizenship, and social security numbers. Interviews are still required for households applying for D-SNAP.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
SNAP is the most important safety net program protecting Floridians from food insecurity. SNAP provides grocery assistance to households with low income who are struggling to put food on the table. In a hurricane, SNAP plays a pivotal role in making sure that disaster survivors can access food.
Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP)
D-SNAP provides food assistance to households with significant disaster-related expenses who are not eligible for regular SNAP. D-SNAP does not look at citizenship status, impose a work requirement, or preclude college students from participating.
In the past, households who wished to apply for D-SNAP were required to pre-register either online or in-person at a to-be-announced D-SNAP site. After pre-registration, households may be required to have an interview either by telephone or in-person at an announced location.
Applying for D-SNAP is normally a 2-part process:
First, the household must “pre-register” for D-SNAP, which means filling out a form about themselves and household members, including information about income, assets, and how the household was impacted by the disaster.
- While DCF ordinarily urges households to pre-register online, DCF usually opens up on-site D-SNAP locations in each affected county to serve households face-to-face who are unable to pre-register by computer.
- Although households will not be required to have any particular document to verify their identity (such as a Social Security card, driver's license, or a state ID card), DCF says that eligibility can be determined more quickly if an applicant has one of those particular forms of identification.
Second, after completing pre-registration, the household must have a short interview.
- Although this can be done by phone, DCF usually opens up on-site D-SNAP locations in each affected county to serve households who are unable to be interviewed by telephone.
- DCF’s on-site D-SNAP locations will be located in accessible areas that are passable and safe to travel. In addition, these sites may also be required to offer sufficient security, water, and restroom facilities, as well as provide reasonable accommodations for seniors and people with disabilities.
DCF is supposed to provide D-SNAP benefits within 3 days (72 hours) of the date of application, as long as the household has complied with interview and verification requirements. Applicants whose identity or other eligibility factor cannot be adequately verified during their interview will be provided 7 days to submit verification to their local DCF office.
Supplemental SNAP is extra SNAP for people who were receiving benefits when the disaster happened that were not at maximum amount for their household size. In those cases, DCF may issue supplemental benefits to bring SNAP allotments for affected households in the disaster area up to the maximum allotment for a household of their size.
Replacement SNAP allows households already participating in SNAP to get food replaced that has been destroyed in a disaster. For most hurricanes, DCF automatically replaces SNAP benefits without requiring that the affected household apply for replacement.
However, households in counties that do not get automatic replacement of SNAP may apply individually for food replacement if they lost food bought with SNAP due to the storm. Individual requests for replacement benefits normally must be made within 10 days of the loss. In most cases, replacement issuances will be made for the amount of the loss, up to the total amount of the benefit issued for the month.
DCF usually obtains permission from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow households to purchase hot food with SNAP assistance after a hurricane for a specified period of time. .
SNAP Recertification Extended
DCF often obtains permission from FNS to extend the certification periods of all households in the state due to be recertified in the aftermath of a hurricane.
Family Resource Centers
DCF may open Family Resource Support Centers with staff on site, including Hope Navigators, behavioral health partners who specialize in disaster recovery response, and public benefit eligibility specialists to help individuals and families.
U.S. Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)
FNS may grant the Florida Department of Health the flexibility to allow operators in the Child Care Food Program (CCFP) to provide meals in a non-congregate setting.
FNS may also allow the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to permit operators of Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) or National School Lunch (NSLP) to serve meals in a non-congregate setting, adjust meal time, allow parent pick up of food, and to serve meals at school sites. If school buildings are closed but classes are being held virtually, FNS normally will allow schools to serve NSLP and School Breakfast Program (SBP) meals in a non-congregate setting, adjust the time of meal service, and permit parent pick up, among other flexibilities.
U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)
The SBA provides capital and business development assistance to help grow and build small businesses. In response to disasters, the SBA provides low-interest loans to homeowners and business owners to pay for damages that are not covered by insurance. The SBA provides three types of disaster loans:
1) home disaster loans to repair or replace homes;
2) business physical disaster loans, to repair or replace business property; and 3) economic injury disaster loans, to provide assistance to small businesses and agricultural cooperatives to meet their expenses during the disaster period and until they resume normal business.
Click here for information on applying for an SBA loan.
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)
CMS is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). CMS administers the Medicare program and works in partnership with state governments to administer Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance program (CHIP).
State of Florida Waivers
The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services may declare a Non-Covid Public Health Emergency. This gives CMS the flexibility to support beneficiaries in Florida during disasters. Flexibilities may include and are not limited to:
- replacement prescription fills
- ensuring correct processing of home health disaster related claims
- replacement of durable medical equipment
Medical Equipment and Supplies Replacements
CMS may temporarily waive certain requirements to enable people with Medicare who have lost or sustained damage to their durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics, and supplies as a result of the hurricane to receive replacements of such items and services. This will help to ensure beneficiaries can continue to access the needed medical equipment and supplies they rely on each day. Medicare beneficiaries can contact 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) for assistance.
CMS is helping people obtain and maintain access to critical life-saving services by activating the Kidney Community Emergency Response (KCER) program and working with End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) Network 7, which is responsible under a contract with CMS for assessing the status of dialysis facilities in potentially impacted areas of the State of Florida. The ESRD Network 7 (Florida) toll-free hotline is 800-826-3773. Additional information is available here on the KCER website.
Special Enrollment Periods for Hurricane Victims
Open enrollment in Florida begins on November 1, 2023. If a qualified individual is unable to enroll in a Qualified Health Insurance Plan due to a hurricane during the 60-day enrollment period, the individual and their dependents will be eligible for an Exceptional Circumstances Special Enrollment Period that allows them to enroll in coverage after the deadline. To request an Exceptional Circumstances SEP, FEMA-emergency affected individuals must contact the Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596 or TTY at 1-855-889-4325 and indicate they were eligible for another enrollment window, but were unable to complete their enrollment due to a FEMA-designated emergency or disaster.
Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
SAMHSA is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation.
SAMHSA Disaster Preparedness and Recovery
The Disaster Distress Helpline is a national hotline dedicated to providing year-round immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
Local Governmental Resources
After a disaster, affected counties usually announce local resources that are available to assist hurricane survivors. Check your county’s website for county-specific information.
Emergency Food and Water
Emergency food, water, and/or ice may be available at distribution points in affected counties. A list of distribution points by county and address will likely be posted soon after the hurricane subsides.