With the Southeast still reeling from the hurricanes, getting back into the groove of daily life can be nearly impossible when businesses, personal property and homes remain significantly damaged.  Insurance companies have their work cut out for them, too – and they are likely not your friend after natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey and Irma.  Policies riddled with exclusions, policy-holders’ lack of information about personal property and hard-nosed adjusters can make filing insurance claims a frustrating and timely process.  Accessing federal funds may seem futile after reading daily reports of depletion of FEMA and SBA funds. (“Breaking News! As Irma plows through the state of Florida, Texans plow through FEMA funds!” sound familiar?).  Don’t give up.  As a resident of a county which has been declared a national disaster, you are entitled to access such funds.  And thankfully, most of the counties in Florida have been declared “national disaster areas” entitled to federal disaster assistance.  Congress has been making continuous efforts to notify hurricane victims how to process claims for federal relief, but in the event your congresswoman or congressman didn’t reach you, the following is a guide which may help:

1.To begin the process, visit www.disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-3362.

2. The first step will be verifying whether you are a resident eligible for individual assistance.

3. You will need proof of identification, residency and ownership of property. 

4. Gather all insurance policies, warranties, photographs and other identifying materials of the damaged property, such as receipts, registrations, proofs of purchase, bank statements and other similar documents.

5. BEWARE OF SCAMMERS!  No one is authorized to “sell” or “process” federal assistance for you – do NOT deal with anyone attempting to process your federal relief claim.  If you believe someone is attempting to scam you, please contact National Center for Disaster Fraud at 866-720-5721.  You do not need a lawyer to assist you with your claim for federal relief, and the application process does not cost anything.

6. If you are eligible, the type of assistance available extends to grants, loans, temporary rental assistance, unemployment payments, loans for small businesses, and crisis counseling for affected individuals. 

Folks, the assistance is extensive and the process is easy and should not cost you one penny.  There is absolutely no harm in exploring what relief you may be entitled to, whether it’s losses suffered from businesses or the need of comfort from the loss of a pet or loved one.  Floridians across the state have shown amazing solidarity in assisting one another in this time of need, but don’t forget to help yourself.  These are the moments when we need to set aside our differences and lean on our government, as those who sit on both sides of the aisle have been victimized by these historical natural disasters.

Please see the opposite page for a checklist provided by disasterassitance.gov.