Disaster Assistance

Food, shelter, cash payments, loans, and other help for survivors of major disasters

Last revised OCTOBER 2022

Federal disaster assistance is provided to survivors of a major disaster through…

  • the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Individuals and Households Program (IHP), Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA), the Small Business Administration (SBA), and emergency provisions of other benefit programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
  • FEMA, the key federal coordinating agency, works in concert with and provides referrals to other agencies administering disaster relief.

NOTE: The most common “major disasters” are earthquakes, storms, fires, and civil unrest.

FEMA provides…

  • Temporary Housing Assistance. Rent payments or temporary housing units for people who must relocate due to disaster-related damage to their primary home or apartment.
  • Mortgage and Rental Assistance. Rent or mortgage payments for people suffering a financial hardship due to the disaster and facing eviction or foreclosure.
  • Emergency home repairs. Grants to homeowners to restore the habitability of their home and replace essential household items.
  • Critical Needs Assistance. One-time, limited payments for immediate needs such as food, medications and medical equipment, infant formula, and personal hygiene items.


The Individuals and Households Program (IHP)

  • Provides grants to people needing financial help for disaster-related expenses such as housing repairs and cleanup, replacement of household and job essentials (including transportation), child care, and medical, dental, and funeral costs; also provides temporary housing expense reimbursements and rental assistance.
  • To receive IHP for purposes other than medical, dental, and funeral costs, an individual must be ineligible for an SBA loan, or must have received an SBA loan that is inadequate to cover his or her needs.
  • The IHP is administered through state offices of emergency services or similar state agencies.

Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA)

  • Provides cash income to people who become unemployed due to a major disaster and who are ineligible for regular state unemployment insurance (UI). DUA is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor through state employment agencies.

Food programs

  • Emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Disaster SNAP (D-SNAP), and food distribution may be provided to meet emergency food needs arising after a disaster. These food programs are administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through state social services agencies or similar state or local organizations.

Short-term, noncash, in-kind emergency disaster assistance

  • Numerous agencies independently provide food, water, shelter, medical care, emergency shelter, search and rescue, and other services to minimize threats to life, property, and public health and safety.

Small Business Administration (SBA) loans

  • Low-interest loans to homeowners, renters, nonprofit organizations, and large and small businesses to repair or replace damaged homes, personal property, or businesses.
  • Primary source of federal funds for long-term housing assistance.

Individuals qualify for disaster assistance who…

  • have suffered a loss caused by an event that the president of the United States has declared to be a major disaster
  • apply soon after a disaster is declared, within the application period for the particular benefit program

Special considerations for immigrants and their families

  • If one member of the household is a U.S. citizen or a “qualified” immigrant, the household may be eligible for FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program.
  • Receipt of disaster relief does not have public charge consequences.
  • All immigrants, regardless of immigration status, are eligible for short-term, noncash, in-kind, emergency disaster relief and similar services.

To apply, a person should…

The law governing federal disaster assistance appears at:

Stafford Disaster and Relief Act 42 U.S.C. §§ 5121, et seq., 44 C.F.R. §§ 206.1, et seq.(FEMA and IHP), 20 C.F.R. §§ 625.1, et seq. (DUA), 7 C.F.R. §§ 280.1, et seq. (Emergency Food Coupons and Food Distribution), 15 U.S.C. §§ 634, et seq., 13 C.F.R. §§ 123.1, et seq. (SBA); immigrant eligibility described in Memorandum from Lacy E. Suiter, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Executive Associate Director, Response and Recovery Directorate Policy No. 4430.140C, Policy on Verification of Citizenship, Qualified Alien Status and Eligibility for Disaster Assistance (Mar. 2, 1998).

Additional materials:

Fact Sheet: Citizenship Status and Eligibility for Disaster Assistance FAQ at  https://www.fema.gov/press-release/20210318/fact-sheet-citizenship-status-and-eligibility-disaster-assistance-faq# 

Information on FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program,

Individual Assistance Program and Policy Guide, at), at https://www.fema.gov/assistance/individual/policy-guidance-and-fact-sheets (last updated May 2021), and memo with amendments at https://www.fema.gov/sites/default/files/documents/fema_iappg-policy-amendments-memo.pdf (Sept. 2, 2021).


[1] “Qualified” immigrants – are: (1) lawful permanent residents (LPRs); (2) refugees, asylees, people granted withholding of depor­tation/removal, conditional entry (in effect prior to Apr. 1, 1980), or paroled into the U.S. for at least one year; (3) Cuban/Haitian en­trants; (4) battered spouses and children with a pending or approved (a) self-petition for an immigrant visa, or (b) immigrant visa filed for a spouse or child by a U.S. citizen or LPR, or (c) application for cancellation of removal/suspension of deportation, whose need for benefits has a substantial connection to the battery or cruelty (parent/child of such battered child/spouse are also “qualified”); and (5) victims of trafficking and their derivative beneficiaries who have obtained a T visa or whose application for a T visa sets forth a prima facie case. A broader group of trafficking victims who are certified by or who receive an eligibility letter from the Office of Refugee Resettlement are eligible for benefits funded or administered by federal agencies, without regard to their immigration status. See also note 5.

[2] A “victim of trafficking” is an individual who has been subjected to a “severe form of trafficking in persons” as defined by the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000. Severe forms of trafficking include sex trafficking and the forced or fraudulent recruitment, harboring, transport or provision of a person for labor or services that subject the person to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

[3] “’Not qualified’ immigrant,” as used in this Guide, refers to a person who is not a U.S. citizen and not a “’qualified’ immigrant.”

[4] Note that the Emergency SNAP requirements are different from those that apply to the D-SNAP program. For details, see Disaster SNAP Guidance: Policy Guidance, Lessons Learned, and Toolkits to Operate a Successful D-SNAP (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, July 2014), https://fns-prod.azureedge.us/sites/default/files/resource-files/D-SNAP_handbook.pdf.

[5] Iraqi and Afghan special immigrant visa holders (SIV) and special immigrant parolees (who have applied for SIV status) are eligible for federal benefits to the same extent as refugees. Other Afghans granted parole between July 31, 2021, and December 16, 2022 — and their spouses and children, and parents/guardians of unaccompanied children granted parole after September 30, 2022 — also are eligible for federal benefits to the same extent as refugees. Eligibility for this group continues until March 31, 2023, or the end of their parole term, whichever is later. Ukrainians paroled into the U.S. between February 24, 2022, and September 30, 2023 – and their spouses and children, and parents, guardians or primary caregivers of unaccompanied children paroled into the U.S. after September 30, 2023 – are eligible for federal benefits to the same extent as refugees. Benefits are available to this group regardless of the length of their parole period –but eligibility continues only until their parole is terminated.