Natural Disaster Assistance for Relief

In every person’s life, there may come a set of unexpected events. Some of these events can be in our favor. Others, not so much. Unfortunately, some of those negative surprises can have significant impacts on our livelihoods. Among these events, natural disasters stand out due to how much they can impact a person’s life. With how we’ve been treating the planet lately, natural disasters may occur more often due to climate change. Thankfully though, the federal government is here to help out those who go through such challenges. The US federal government created a long list of assistance programs to provide relief to victims of natural disasters.

Types Of Disaster Relief Assistance Programs The Government Provides

The Myriam-Webster dictionary includes a really interesting term, ‘acts of God’. The dictionary defines it as “an extraordinary interruption by a natural cause (such as a flood or earthquake) of the usual course of events that experience, prescience, or care cannot reasonably foresee or prevent.” The term even exists in the US law definitions.

That’s why the government provides these relief programs to Americans. These natural disasters occur out of the control of any living being. The federal program wants to help out Americans in cases in which they need help most. That’s why these programs cover all types of needs and necessities. That list includes shelter, food, income, legal services, and the list goes on.

However, there’s one common factor between all assistance programs provided by the government. Qualifications determine whether a person can receive benefits through these programs or not. If a person fails to meet the eligibility criteria required by any federal assistance programs, they’re least likely to receive any of the benefits offered through these programs.

That’s why in this article we’ll list a few of these disaster relief programs. We’ll also discuss the qualification for each program, as well as the process to apply to each of them.

The Disaster Assistance And Emergency Relief Program

We’re starting off with this program because it’s relatively straightforward. This is a special tax law provision. The idea is to help taxpayers and businesses recover financially from the consequences of natural disasters. This program specifically focuses on areas where the federal government declares a major disaster area.

The way this program works is that individuals and businesses in disaster-stricken areas may claim faster refunds on their taxes. These individuals and businesses may claim losses due to natural disasters on their previous year’s tax filings. In some situations, the Internal Revenue Service may grant applicants additional time to file returns and pay taxes. The most typical approach to it is to file an amended tax return. Eligible applicants must use Form 4684 to report a gain or deductible loss.

Obviously, to claim benefits through this program, you have to be in a federally-declared disaster area. Typically, you have one of two ways to deduct casualty losses:

  • On your return in the year the disaster happened, or
  • File an amended return to deduct the loss in the year before the disaster

Disaster Legal Services

The federal government created the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) branch to deal with cases of natural disasters. In cooperation with FEMA, the federal government made an agreement with the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association. This agreement results in providing free legal assistance for survivors of natural disasters. The Disaster Legal Services (DLS) focuses on providing legal assistance to low-income individuals who went through or are going through a Presidentially declared major disaster. Those individuals must also be unable to get adequate legal services for themselves.

There’s one thing to keep in mind though. This federal assistance program can’t directly help in cases in which lawyers are supposed to earn a percentage of the settlement. These cases are often referred to the local lawyer referral service instead. There are certain types of cases that this program can help with:

  • Insurance claim assistance: That can include medical bills, property loss, life insurance claims, and so on.
  • Home repair contracts and contractor mediation.
  • Assistance with re-creating documents lost in the disaster, such as wills, and power of attorney.
  • Mediation with landlords.

Disaster Resources for Older Americans

It’s obvious that the government will have resources ready to help out vulnerable individuals during times of crisis. That’s why the Administration on Aging (AoA) has a whole page dedicated to emergency preparedness. This resource page aims to help elderly Americans specifically. However, the page is available to the public. So, the page is also helpful to caregivers, community service providers, researchers, and students.

Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP)

You most likely have heard of food stamps. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is basically the fancy new name for that program. To fill you in on the background information for SNAP:  In 1990, paper food stamps were replaced with electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards. It obviously took a while for paper stamps to be completely removed from circulation. In 2014, all stamps were replaced with electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards.

These cards work the same way debit cards work. SNAP benefits are deposited on accounts linked to the cards. They will also track what the money is being spent on. Eligible cardholders can use the cards at EBT participating stores, ATMs, and point-of-sale (POS) terminals.

Under normal circumstances, to qualify for SNAP, you must make less than 130% of the federal poverty level. The government calculates the federal poverty line is calculated differently for differently-sized households. For the fiscal year of 2022, the poverty line for a household of 3 persons is  $23,030.

Things Work Differently When A Disaster Takes Place

Unfortunate disasters change everything. That can include how the government will evaluate the qualifications for assistance programs. When it comes to D-SNAP, the government will require different eligibility terms, compared to SNAP. So, even if you don’t normally qualify for SNAP, you may still qualify for D-SNAP if you had to pay for any of the following disaster-related expenses:

  • Home or business repairs.
  • Temporary shelter expenses.
  • Evacuation or relocation expenses.
  • Disaster-related personal injury, including funeral expenses
  • Lost or no access to income due to the disaster; includes reduced, terminated, or delayed receipt of income, for a large part of the benefit period.
  • In some cases, food loss after a disaster like flooding or power outages.

If you already qualify for SNAP, you can ask your state for a supplement when they operate D-SNAP if you meet the following qualifications:

  • You currently get benefits that are less than the monthly maximum.
  • You have losses from the disaster.

Disaster Unemployment Assistance

It’s bad enough to lose a job when the economy is doing well. It’s much worse to lose a job when the economy is not at its best. But, losing a job because of a natural disaster must be an absolute nightmare. Thankfully, the government is here to support people going through such an ordeal. Basically, the government is willing to provide unemployment benefits to people who became unemployed due to a Presidentially declared major disaster.

Much like all other federal assistance programs, Disaster Unemployment assistance comes with a few qualifying standards. Obviously, this type of assistance focuses on helping individuals who lost their jobs due to a major disaster declared by the President of the United States.

To sum up, the government may grant unemployment benefits, during a presidentially-declared disaster, if candidates fall within one of the following criteria:

  • A person who lost their job
  • Not able to reach their workplace due to the disaster
  • Their workplace has been damaged by the disaster
  • The disaster caused an unfortunate death to the former head of the family. Now the applicant is the new head of the family
  • The applicant suffers an injury caused by the disaster
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