As many of you know, South Carolina was recently hit with an unprecedented storm. Some areas of South Carolina received over two feet of rain in a single weekend. Of course, massive flooding soon followed causing widespread devastation and leaving the state with over a billion dollars in damage.
Luckily enough, at least for private residents, help is on the way. Here in the US we usually hear about FEMA, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in the wake of natural disasters. FEMA provided a tremendous amount of aid in New Orleans during the Hurricane Katrina disaster, and they are currently working their way through the damage here in Columbia. So, I thought it would be a good time to talk a little bit about FEMA. Who are these people? Where do they come from? Can I have some money?
FEMA is an administrative agency of the US government under the Department of Homeland Security. As we tell our 1L students, Congress can elect to give power to certain agencies, which then become a rulemaking arm of the Executive branch. The agencies, then, are under the direction of the head of the executive branch (The President), who can direct these agencies to perform certain actions (by executive order). President Carter used one of these orders to create FEMA in April of 1979.
FEMA’s job is to coordinate response to natural disasters that would otherwise overwhelm local and state governments. Once a state governor declares a state of emergency and requests FEMA assistance, they then can provide assistance in a number of ways.
- Disaster Relief Centers – FEMA sets up care shelters to provide food, water, and shelter for those affected by the disaster
- Housing assistance – FEMA can provide either rental assistance and government housing if there is nowhere to rent for displaced persons
- Medical Assistance – sometimes even including funeral expenses
- Property – FEMA often provides assistance to store, transport, and sometimes even replace personal property
To qualify for FEMA assistance, a few things have to happen. First, you must find out if you live in an area covered by a “Declaration for Individual Assistance.” This declaration occurs after the governor requests help from FEMA. Some declarations provide for individual assistance, while others may only provide for things like waste cleanup or public entity assistance.
Second, you must file an application with FEMA itself. This application must include information about any insurance and insurance claims you have on damaged property. You must file your insurance claims before you can receive FEMA assistance. FEMA is not allowed to provide assistance for property covered by insurance. Once your application is received, a FEMA inspector will visit the damaged property and create a report.
Finally, FEMA will review the application along with the inspectors report. They will then either deny or approve a FEMA grant. The grants are mailed out to recipients with specific instructions on how the money is to be used. If the recipients fail to follow direction, they may not receive any further assistance and could be asked to return the initial grant.