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Individual Assistance Disaster Relief Programs


Each year, thousands of customers who have experienced a disaster rely on services provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help them recover from the impact. FEMA’s Individual Assistance programs provide financial aid and services such as counseling support directly to disaster survivors.  

To better reach all disaster survivors, FEMA is implementing enhanced applicant services to provide customers with more support as they apply for Individual Assistance programs and to ensure that FEMA is equitably serving all customers, regardless of how they choose to interact with the agency. FEMA also increased its commitment to trauma-informed communication that takes into account the upheaval and stress experienced by its customers. 

Customers continue to particularly appreciate their interactions with FEMA’s home inspectors, but increased coordination between FEMA and other federal agencies serving disaster survivors could help streamline disaster survivors’ experiences and improve access to support. 

Service Overview and Data Highlights

Service Overview

Primary Customers

People in communities affected by disasters.  

Key Services

  • Acceptance and processing of applications for disaster assistance. 
  • Inspections of homes and other property to assess damage and verify eligibility for assistance.   
  • Housing assistance for eligible survivors that includes rental assistance, lodging expense reimbursement, and home repair or replacement. 
  • Financial assistance for disaster-related costs such as property damage, medical expenses, funeral assistance, child care and transportation.   
  • Crisis counseling, disaster unemployment benefits, legal services and disaster case management services. 

Service Snapshot

  • 23 Individual Assistance disaster declarations. 
  • 2.1 million registrations for Individual Assistance.1
  • 988,000 Individual Assistance inspections completed.  
  • 34 million visitors to 
  • 5.5 million calls to FEMA call centers. 
  • 322,000 in-person visits to disaster recovery centers. 

Data Highlights2


of respondents to FEMA’s survey said FEMA met their expectations. 


of respondents to FEMA’s survey said they were satisfied with the overall home inspection experience. 


of respondents to FEMA’s survey said FEMA financial assistance arrived in a reasonable amount of time. 

Customer Insights

Customer Insights


(if applicable)

Improvement from 2021

Room for Improvement

Enhanced applicant services are expanding the reach of FEMA’s Individual Assistance programs.

To enable that all disaster survivors to more easily access FEMA’s Individual Assistance programs, the agency implemented “enhanced applicant services” so all survivors can receive services the way that works best for them—whether in person at their homes or a disaster recovery center, over the phone or online. FEMA expanded the online self-service options available to customers during the pandemic but then realized not all customers were able to take advantage of them. “As much as we talk about personalized account access and self-service options … that doesn’t necessarily meet everyone where they are,” said Melissa Forbes, assistant administrator of FEMA’s Recovery Directorate. 

The enhanced applicant services initiative provides an alternative to online or phone services for customers who would prefer, or need, help from a person to complete the Individual Assistance application process or learn about FEMA’s services. For example, many survivors of the July 2022 flooding disaster in eastern Kentucky live without consistent cell service. FEMA staff members calling to arrange inspection times or verify information were often unable to reach these customers, many of whom had to travel to an area with cell service to return FEMA’s calls—and then often were left waiting on hold. As part of its enhanced applicant services, FEMA sent casework experts into the field, along with inspectors, to contact survivors at their homes, saving customers the extra effort of having to travel for cell service or to visit a disaster recovery center while their lives were in disarray.  

The agency is also proactively reaching out to customers who started but did not complete an application for assistance. For example, to qualify for Individual Assistance, customers must be able to verify their identity and occupancy. FEMA initially attempts to verify identity and occupancy for customers through an automated public records search. The agency is now analyzing data to proactively identify customers and contact them to help them fulfill remaining requirements if they are not able to initially verify this information via public records. Changes in 2021 to expand types of documents accepted to prove home ownership and occupancy have also enable more than 100,000 additional applicants to receive assistance.

FEMA is also ensuring that its inspectors, who are already in the field interacting with disaster survivors, are equipped to provide information about FEMA’s services and help customers complete their applications. For example, with the tablets they use to record the results of their inspection, inspectors can also note in the moment if customers have provided their ownership, occupancy and identity documents. This information is then uploaded into FEMA’s central system, saving customers the additional effort of having to travel to a disaster recovery center, mail or fax documents to FEMA, or upload their documentation separately. Inspectors are using their interactions with customers to help the agency identify the most common hurdles related to proving eligibility so the agency can better target its proactive outreach.      

Customers appreciate their interactions with FEMA’s home inspectors but believe the agency overall could do more to meet customer expectations.

FEMA’s home inspectors work with customers in difficult situations—people who have lost their homes and possessions or whose homes were severely damaged. FEMA’s surveys of Individual Assistance applicants indicate that customers appreciate the professionalism and service of inspectors, with 92% of customers rating the overall customer service provided by inspectors with a four or five on a five-point scale.   

However, only 59% of Individual Assistance customers indicate that FEMA met their expectations overall, indicating that the agency still has adjustments to make to ensure disaster survivors are satisfied with their interactions with FEMA. The agency’s work to provide enhanced applicant services and proactively reach out to help customers fulfill documentation requirements aims to address this customer feedback.

Results from FEMA’s Individual Assistance application satisfaction survey  

Feedback Question Respondents giving a rating of 4 or 5 (out of 5) 
Overall satisfaction with information provided  74%79%74%
FEMA financial assistance arriving in a reasonable amount of time 79%86%82%
FEMA financial assistance helping meet disaster related needs 64%72%70%
FEMA meeting customer expectations 60%66%59%
Home inspector on overall customer service 89%91%92%
Satisfaction with overall inspection experience 86%86%89%

Increased coordination with other agencies and private sector entities would improve the support provided to customers and create a better experience for applicants.

After experiencing a disaster, individuals must navigate a complex web of organizations that provide support. This includes insurance companies, voluntary organizations, multiple federal agencies, and state and local organizations. They are often unsure where to turn first. For example, obtaining some FEMA financial assistance may require applying to private insurance companies or the Small Business Administration first.  

As part of the Biden administration’s work to streamline the customer experience for certain key life experiences, a cross-agency team conducted research to identify the barriers customers face when navigating the patchwork of federal agencies and other organizations that offer services after a disaster. One key challenge is that disaster survivors often must provide the same documentation separately to each organization to prove eligibility for aid. Efforts are underway to move toward a unified federal disaster registration process enabling customers to provide their information and documentation once, to a centralized system, where all relevant agencies could access it. However, challenges remain for creating the infrastructure and policies needed for this type of data sharing, according to FEMA officials.  

Delivering Services Equitably

Delivering Services Equitably

Disasters are complex events that do not impact everyone the same way. Underserved communities are often among the most adversely affected by natural disasters because of several interrelated factors. These include living in areas prone to disasters, living in substandard housing, lacking time and resources to prepare and recover, and the absence of disaster insurance. Recognizing this, FEMA officials cited equity as a key driver of the agency’s enhanced applicant services initiative, as it aims to minimize the work required of customers and ensure they can access services in the way that is most convenient for them. For example, enabling inspectors to verify documentation eliminates the need for customers to travel to a disaster recovery center, mail or fax documents, or have internet access to upload documentation on their own at a later date. 

FEMA is also working to improve the way it communicates with customers—who are already going through a stressful experience—so they feel supported. The agency has focused on incorporating trauma-informed communication principles into all its communication channels. For example, FEMA revamped the recording customer hear when they first call the agency, focusing on FEMA’s role in supporting survivors and de-emphasizing legal disclaimers that could be intimidating to some customers. The agency also provides training to inspectors to ensure they are prepared to engage with and support customers during the process, rather than solely focused on completing their inspection checklist. 

In 2022, FEMA received approval from the Office of Management and Budget to collect demographic data from customers as they register for disaster assistance, on a voluntary basis. Previously, the agency was not allowed to collect and analyze demographic data that helps it understand if it is providing equitable services to all customers. FEMA began collecting demographic data from customers in the summer of 2022 and plans to do a comprehensive equity analysis of the Individuals and Households Program, once it has collected a nationally representative sample.    

  1. Registrations include all completed applications for Individual Assistance.
  2. All data for fiscal 2021. Feedback is captured by FEMA across three surveys: an initial survey after registration is completed; a contact survey after an applicant contacts FEMA’s helpline, checks their case online, visits a disaster recovery center or receives an inspection; and a final survey after a decision is made on the applicant’s case. Percentages represent the percentage of respondents answering four and five on a five-point scale.

This customer experience profile was produced by the Partnership for Public Service, in collaboration with Accenture Federal Services.

Read the corresponding report Designing a Government for the People

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