Determining Eligibility: Methods for presenting disaster-related costs to FEMA to obtain eligibility


Eligible applicants are:

  • State government agencies, such as departments of transportation, environment, or parks;
  • Local governments, such as a county, city, town, special district or regional authority, village, or borough;
  • Indian tribes or authorized tribal organizations and Alaskan native villages; or
  • Private nonprofit (PNP) organizations1 or institutions that own or operate facilities that provide certain services of a governmental nature.2

General Work Eligibility
If your organization is eligible for public assistance, FEMA relies on the following tests to determine what is eligible work:

  1. Required as a result of the event.
  2. Caused by the event (no pre-existing damage or negligence).
  3. Located within the designated disaster area.
  4. The legal responsibility of an eligible applicant.

Required as a Result of the Event:

This test is typically weighed against emergency costs (Categories A & B) and is subject to varying interpretations. Historically it has been used to determine the eligibility of costs such as:

  • Safety inspections
  • Emergency transportation
  • Temporary relocations
  • Force account labor
  • Purchases and rentals
  • Emergency contracts

While one might assume that an applicant would not arbitrarily take on extraordinary work unless it was required to achieve a prompt response and recovery following a disaster, this alone is not sufficient to satisfy FEMA’s eligibility requirements. Often how an applicant describes what was done and the reasons for doing it will be key determining factors.

For example, if FEMA is told that emergency inspections were conducted to determine the extent of damage, they would likely be deemed ineligible, as damage assessments are to be absorbed by FEMA’s administration allowance. However, if the inspections were made to determine whether the facility was unfit for occupancy, they would be viewed as safety inspections and therefore be eligible.

Because this criteria is very broad, it is extremely important to succinctly define the what, why, where, how, and by whom for every task for which an applicant hopes to seek reimbursement. It is equally important to further support a claim with all pertinent documentation, such as damage photographs or condemnation notices.

First and foremost, applicants know best what needs to be done in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. However, it is not uncommon for those efforts to be questioned by FEMA months, or even years, after an event. If an applicant clearly believes that their efforts were required as the result of an event, and FEMA and the state do not agree, the applicant must be prepared to appeal that determination in accordance with CFR 44 206.440 (Appeals).