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How Local Governments Apply for FEMA Grants & Work With FEMA

By Beth D'Arcy


When unexpected events like natural disasters or crises strike, local governments often find themselves grappling in the aftermath. Recovering from such events demands costly resources to rebuild infrastructure, respond effectively to emergencies, and strengthen community resilience. 

Thankfully, one organization offers a glimmer of hope for local governments during these challenging times. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides funding to assist both individuals and local governments with recovery efforts, which helps communities navigate through chaos and rebuild stronger. 

In this blog, we’ll shed light on the importance of FEMA funds, guide you through the FEMA application process, and share best practices for utilizing these funds effectively. 

FEMA Use Cases in Local Government

Whether it's repairing critical infrastructure, restoring public services, or providing emergency shelter, FEMA grants are designed to assist local governments in their recovery efforts.

Here are a few specific ways FEMA has recently helped local governments in the wake of disaster:

  •  Response to Hurricane Idalia

In late August 2023, Hurricane Idalia tore through parts of the southeast United States, causing significant damage to homes, businesses, and infrastructure. FEMA is not only supporting the cleanup and recovery efforts, but is also helping individuals and families navigate the recovery process, which reduces the strain on local government services. 

In coordination with state and local governments, FEMA opened Disaster Recovery Centers in multiple counties to help survivors find temporary shelter and apply to receive home repair funding. 

  • Support for California Landslides

To help California communities affected by flooding, landslides, and mudslides cause by storms in February and March of 2023, FEMA is reimbursing local and state governments for the costs of emergency response, debris removal, and the cost of restoring damaged public infrastructure. These funds are allowing these localities to respond effectively to this disaster without impacting the cost of normal government operations.  

5 Ways Local Governments Can Use FEMA Funds

Local governments can leverage FEMA funding in a variety of ways, including emergency response, restoration work, and mitigation and preparedness efforts. FEMA provides a list of the activities that are eligible for FEMA reimbursement

  1. Disaster Response 

Through Public Assistance (PA) Grants, FEMA helps local governments with immediate response efforts during declared emergencies. Eligible emergency work involves debris removal and immediate life saving measures, such as search and rescue operations, firefighting, evacuation, sheltering, food, supplies, childcare, and many other critical activities. 

FEMA may also reimburse the costs of emergency operations centers and in certain situations, the creation of temporary emergency rooms and the relocation of essential services. 

2. Disaster Recovery

After a disaster, local governments can request PA Grant funding for eligible recovery expenses, such as restoring damaged public infrastructure or facilities, including roads and bridges, water control facilities, public equipment, utilities, parks, and other facilities.

Learn how local governments can learn How to Make a Crisis Communication Plan with GovPilot.  

3. Hazard Mitigation 

FEMA also helps localities mitigate future disasters and environmental hazards. There are several programs and funding opportunities available, including the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program Post Fire (HMGP Post Fire), the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) and the Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) program. 

Localities can also use PA funds with HMGP at the same time. One example is repairing wind damaged schools with shutters using PA funds and enhancing the school with a safe room using HMGP funds. Another example is repairing a road using PA funds and burying power lines using HMGP funds. 

4. Training and Exercises 

Local governments can lean on FEMA’s expertise to train emergency management personnel, first responders, and community members with the skills and knowledge needed to assist during and after a disaster. 

FEMA provides training and education in partnership with the National Preparedness Directorate’s National Training and Education Division (NTED) and the U.S. Fire Administration National Fire Academy. FEMA also offers training at the Center for Domestic Preparedness. 

Some of the training include Rail Car Incident Response, Sport and Event Risk Management, Response to Bombing Incidents, and Natural Disaster Awareness for Community Leaders.

5. Grant Programs

In addition to the Hazard Mitigation Grant Programs mentioned above, FEMA administers other grant programs to help local governments prepare and respond to disasters and emergencies. Some of the grant programs available to local governments include the Intercity Bus Security Grant Program, the State and Local Cybersecurity Grant Program, and the Emergency Food and Shelter Program.   

How Can Local Governments Determine Eligibility for FEMA Public Assistance Grant Funding?  

Once the Federal government declares an emergency or major disaster for a specific area, then the local government may be eligible to apply for FEMA’s Public Assistance (PA) grant funding. 

To be eligible for Public Assistance Grant Funding, the locality must meet these 4 criteria:

  • Applicant

Only states, territories, local governments, or certain types of private nonprofit organizations can apply for PA grant funding.

  • Facility

To be eligible to receive PA grant funding, a facility must be a building, public works system, equipment or improved and maintained natural feature. 

  • Work

Eligible types of work must be either emergency or permanent work, located within the disaster area, and be the legal responsibility of the applicant.  

  • Costs 

Any costs must be documented and directly tied to eligible work.

How to Apply for FEMA Grants

Before applying for a FEMA grant, it’s important for local governments to read the eligibility requirements for each specific grant. Keep in mind that some FEMA grants have a cost share requirement that should be considered before applying. 

FEMA Grants Outcomes (FEMA GO) is FEMA’s new grants management system that allows users to apply and manage their disaster and non-disaster grants in one place. 

Here are the basic steps to take when applying for a FEMA Grant:

  1. Register and Log-In to FEMA GO 

Make sure you have an active SAM.gov account and UEI number. You won’t be able to apply for a FEMA grant without it. With an active SAM.gov account and UEI number, you’re ready to create a new account with FEMA GO and log-in to your account. 

2. Complete Your Organization Profile

When you log-in, take a few minutes to fill out the Organization Profile and Manage My Team sections, where you can add and manage team members.

3. Start an Application 

You can easily start a grant application right in the portal. You can stop and come back to the application at any time. 

4. Complete an Application

Be sure to thoroughly check your application for completeness before submitting. It’s a good practice to write down your application number in a safe place to reference later. 

The Benefits of Utilizing FEMA Funds for Local Governments

When local governments face unexpected events such as natural disasters or emergencies, FEMA funds can be a lifeline for communities in need. These funds also help local government officials address unique and immediate challenges and develop long-term recovery strategies. 

Here are a few key benefits of utilizing FEMA funds:

  • Housing for Displaced Citizens

One of the most pressing needs in the aftermath of a disaster is providing shelter for survivors and displaced citizens. FEMA funds can be used to establish temporary housing facilities, such as emergency shelters and rental assistance programs. This can help survivors regain a sense of stability in the midst of chaos. 

Learn how a Government Continuity Strategy can help your organization. 

  • Improving Outdated and Risky Infrastructure

Disasters often expose weaknesses in a community’s infrastructure, which can unfortunately put lives and property at risk if not addressed. FEMA funds can be used to repair and upgrade infrastructure systems, such as road, bridges, water and sewer systems, and public buildings, before disaster strikes. 

Find out Why Every Locality Needs Disaster Resilient Infrastructure. 

  • Preparedness Measures for Better Response and Mitigation

Preparedness is key to effectively respond to and mitigate the impact of disasters. FEMA funds can be allocated to establish and train dedicated preparedness teams within a community. The funds can also be used to fortify critical infrastructure against potential hazards, such as installing flood barriers, reinforcing buildings, and implementing early warning systems. 

Learn How Local Governments Build Resilient Communities and Community Emergency Response Teams

  • Assisting Citizens with Food and Supplies 

Access to food and essential supplies can quickly become a challenge in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Local governments can use FEMA funds to establish emergency food distribution centers and address the basic needs of their communities during times of crisis. 

Top Disaster Mitigation Tips for Local Governments

Disaster mitigation is a crucial aspect of maintaining a safe and resilient community. Here are some top tips for local governments to effectively mitigate disasters:

  • Develop a Comprehensive Emergency Plan

Create a detailed emergency plan that outlines roles, responsibilities, and procedures for different disaster scenarios. This plan should include evacuation routes, communication protocols, and resource allocation strategies. The planning process should also consider any mutual aid agreements with neighboring jurisdictions, which would allow for the sharing of resources during an emergency. 

  • Conduct Risk Assessments

Identify potential hazards in your area and assess their potential impact in any given scenario. With proper asset management, you can quickly determine the age and condition of any tangible assets. This will help prioritize mitigation efforts and allocate resources accordingly.

  • Invest in Infrastructure Resilience

Strengthen critical infrastructure such as bridges, roads, and buildings to withstand potential disasters and extreme weather events. Incorporate resilience measures into construction and renovation projects to mitigate damage and ensure quick recovery. This also includes regular maintenance of emergency response systems, generators, and communication networks. 

  • Promote Community Engagement and Education

Educate residents about disaster preparedness, response protocols, and evacuation procedures. Encourage community involvement in emergency preparedness initiatives and foster partnerships with local organizations.

  • Implement Land Use Planning and Zoning Regulations

Enforce land use planning and zoning regulations that consider potential hazards and restrict development in high-risk areas. This helps prevent construction in vulnerable zones and reduces the impact of disasters. Taking this extra step can help mitigate property damage from flooding, landslides, or erosion. 

Learn more about these specific types of disaster mitigation: Wildfire Mitigation, Flood Mitigation, Landslide Mitigation, Winter Storm Mitigation

Take Action to Properly Manage FEMA Funds with GovPilot

It’s essential that local government officials take proactive measures to protect their communities in the event of a disaster or emergency. By following these tips, local governments can better safeguard their communities and ensure a swift and effective response during emergencies with the help from FEMA funds. 

Book a demo with GovPilot and learn how easily manage your organization’s FEMA expenses.  


What is FEMA?

FEMA stands for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It is a United States government agency responsible for providing assistance during natural disasters, such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and wildfires. FEMA works closely with state and local governments, as well as non-governmental organizations, to coordinate disaster response efforts and provide relief to affected individuals and communities. FEMA also plays a critical role in disaster preparedness, helping communities to develop emergency plans and providing training and resources to first responders.

How can local governments work with FEMA? 

Local governments can work with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) in several ways to better prepare for and respond to natural disasters. FEMA collaborates with state and local governments to provide assistance during emergencies. Local governments should engage with FEMA to seek funding for disaster-related expenses, guidance in developing emergency response plans, and access to emergency resources, such as equipment, supplies, and personnel. 

What software helps with emergency management?

Emergency management software plays a crucial role in helping local governments effectively respond to and recover from disasters. One software solution that’s commonly used is GovPilot's Emergency Management Software, which offers a range of features to aid in emergency preparedness and response: 

  • FEMA Expense Tracking
  • Floodplain Development Permit
  • GIS Map
  • Vacant Property Registration 
  • Volunteer Application
  • Senior Citizen Registration 
  • …and more!

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Tags: Government Efficiency, More Money or More Problems, Digital Transformation, Emergency Management, GovTech, Disaster Recovery