FEMA Announces Significant Changes to Individual Assistance Program Urged by NLIHC’s DHRC

FEMA released a long-awaited Interim Final Rule in the Federal Register on January 22. The rule includes significant modifications to FEMA’s Individual Assistance (IA) program to expand the amount of assistance available to disaster survivors and address long-standing barriers that have prevented millions of disaster survivors from receiving the assistance they were owed. The changes to the IA program announced in the Interim Final Rule would not have been made without the determined and decades-spanning advocacy conducted by the members and partners of the NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC).


The Interim Final Rule implements the following changes for disasters declared on or after March 22, 2024:

Creation of two new programs:
  • Serious Needs Assistance: This program, an updated version of the Critical Needs Assistance program, will provide $750 per household to disaster survivors applying for assistance in approved areas to help cover evacuation and emergency expenses incurred due to a disaster.
  • Displacement Assistance: This new program will provide up-front funds to enable disaster survivors to access short-term living arrangements immediately following a disaster. Disaster survivors will be able to choose to use this program instead of the existing Lodging Expense Reimbursement Program, which reimburses disaster survivors for expenses incurred accessing short-term shelter.
Removal of Barriers:
  • Loan Application Requirements: An application to the Small Business Administration’s Disaster Home Loan Program is no longer required to access FEMA assistance.
  • Changes to how insurance factors into assistance: Insurance payments will no longer be counted against the amount of assistance a disaster survivor receives to help with recovery and repair of non-insured or under-insured losses from disasters.
  • Self-Employed Business Expenses: Self-employed disaster survivors can now access FEMA assistance to help replace damaged tools and equipment.
  • Habitability: FEMA has expanded the types of damage eligible for assistance to include any issue that prevents a home from being habitable, regardless of whether the issue was created by the disaster or not.
  • Accessibility: FEMA funds can now be used to fund accessibility measures (e.g., ramps and grab bars) in any portion of a disaster survivor’s home, not just the portion of the home impacted by a disaster.
  • Resilience: FEMA funds can now be used to increase the resilience of any portion of a home, not just the portion of a home impacted by a disaster.
Application Simplification:
  • Late Applications: FEMA will now accept applications submitted within 30 days of the expiration of the disaster assistance application period with a statement attesting to the inability of the disaster survivor to apply for assistance due to any of the following reasons: hospitalization of the applicant or an immediate family member; death of an immediate family member; business or personal travel; incarceration; being a victim of human trafficking; an ongoing domestic violence situation; or a major life event, such as the birth or adoption of a child, a marriage, or gender transition.
  • Streamlining Temporary Housing Assistance Applications: FEMA will now consider applications for the extension of temporary housing assistance before the initial funds are exhausted and will simplify additional application requirements to access this continued assistance.  
  • Simplifying Appeals: A written and signed letter is no longer required for a disaster survivor to appeal a denial of assistance; survivors may now simply send the documentation refuting the reason for their denial.