Disaster Declarations – State and Federal

Read this in: Spanish / Español
Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid

By: Josh Gaul

Extreme weather happens every year in Iowa.   Disaster declarations are made for everything from blizzards and ice storms to tornadoes and flash flooding.  What do these declarations mean?  What help is there for those affected by the disaster? 

What is a State Disaster Declaration?

When there is a disaster, the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division (IHSEMD) will help the county.  If the disaster is too large for the county, IHSEMD will ask the Governor to declare a disaster.  When the Governor declares a disaster, the state uses state disaster money to help.  The declaration may be for the whole state, different parts of the state, or just one county.    

What Assistance is Available?

When a state disaster is declared, people who have been hurt by the disaster may get help.  The Iowa Individual Assistance Program can give up to $5,000.  The money can go to home and car repairs, clothing, food, and finding temporary housing. 

Are You Qualified for Iowa Individual Assistance?  

Your household income must be at or below twice the federal poverty level. The maximum annual income for a family of three in 2023 is $49,720.  The declared disaster must have damaged the property.

How Do You Apply for Iowa Individual Assistance?

You have 45 days from when the Governor declares a disaster to do your application.  Make sure to keep receipts for repairs, supplies, replacement clothing, motel or hotel rooms, and anything else you spent because of the disaster.  The application for Individual Assistance is at the following website:


 Complete the form.  Turn it in at your local Community Action Agency.  You can find your local Community Action Agency, at the following website: 


What is a Presidential Federal Disaster Declaration?

When the state and local government do not have the resources to respond, the Governor can ask the President to declare a major disaster or emergency.  If the President makes a declaration, federal programs may help.      

What are the Types of Federal Declarations?

There are two types of federal declarations.

·       Emergency Declarations. Federal help goes to state and local emergency services.  No benefits are given to individuals.

·       Major Disaster Declarations. The three general categories of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance are:   Individual Assistance, Public Assistance, and Hazard Mitigation.  These are available depending on need and what the Governor requests.  Individuals only get help if the declaration includes Individual Assistance. The other help goes to local governments.

What Types of Individual Assistance are Available After a Federal Major Disaster Declaration?

Disaster survivors may be able to get money under the Individuals and Households Program. This includes help for temporary housing and repairs.  It is very hard to get home replacement or new home construction.  The U.S. Small Business Administration can also make loans to repair or replace homes, personal property, or businesses for damages not covered by insurance.  “Other Needs Assistance” helps individuals and households who have expenses or serious needs, but do not qualify for a loan from the Small Business Administration.

The Disaster Unemployment Assistance Program helps people unemployed because of a major disaster.  Benefits begin from the date of unemployment.  Benefits can last up to 26 weeks after the Presidential declaration date.  These benefits are for people not covered by other unemployment compensation programs.  Unemployed individuals must register with the State’s employment services office before they can receive these benefits.    

Where can I go for legal help?

If a disaster caused you problems with housing issues, getting available government assistance, or other legal problems, please feel free to contact Iowa Legal Aid.

  • Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 
    • To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:call 800-532-1275. 
    • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161 or 
    • apply online at iowalegalaid.org
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website iowabar.org.   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice
Last Review and Update: Nov 07, 2023
Back to top