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Navigating the FEMA Grant Process for Flood Mitigation

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

So, you’re a city manager, city engineer, or public works director–and your community has some consistent flooding–but you don’t know where to start. (You know your community needs help to mitigate floods, but what next?) First, know you’re not alone. The FEMA grant application process is complex, and it’s not like there’s a handy one-size-fits-all guide available online that speaks in real words to real people. Read through this high-level guide to figure out where you are, where you want to go, and how to get your community the help they need.

flood mitigation grant process

Why this matters:

Small suburban communities can face significant challenges when it comes to preparing for floods. They often lack the resources and expertise necessary to develop comprehensive mitigation plans and infrastructure projects.

However, with the help of FEMA and other grant programs, small suburban communities can take steps to protect their residents and property from the devastation caused by floods. In this blog post, we will explore the basics of the Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) Programs for small suburban communities including the benefits, eligibility requirements, and application process for a funding opportunity like this.

Along the way, we’ll be answering the following questions:

  1. What are some of the critical steps that a community must take to be eligible for FEMA funding?

  2. How important is having a FEMA-approved hazard mitigation plan for communities seeking to secure grant applications?

  3. What is the role of engineering studies in the FEMA grant application process?

  4. Can communities apply for FEMA funding for infrastructure projects, and how does this process differ from traditional mitigation projects?

  5. What are some of the benefits of successfully securing FEMA funding for a community, beyond just access to financial resources?

  6. How can communities ensure that their grant applications meet all of the requirements set forth by FEMA?

  7. How do specialists like Shauna Urlacher help communities navigate the complex FEMA grant application process?

  8. What are some of the key challenges that communities might face when pursuing FEMA funding, and how can they be overcome?

  9. What are some of the most common mistakes that communities make when preparing their FEMA grant applications, and how can they be avoided?

  10. Looking forward, what role do you think FEMA funding will play in helping communities prepare for and mitigate the impact of natural disasters and other hazards?

1. Commit to a FEMA-approved hazard mitigation plan

Your community must adopt a FEMA-approved hazard mitigation plan (Plan) to be eligible for FEMA funding. Check FEMA's interactive national status map to see if your community is covered under an approved Plan. Many communities have already adopted an approved Plan. If your community does not already have a Plan in place you may be able to request your county add you to their plan (there is a process to be added). Another option is to develop your own community Plan.

In addition to project grants, there is also funding available for the development of hazard mitigation plans. You could submit for a grant to develop a hazard mitigation plan. Then, once you have that adopted and approved, you can go ahead and submit for additional funding for your project.

When you have the hazard mitigation plan approved and adopted, and you have a project you want to submit for grant funding, you need an engineering study.

suburban flood mitigation planning

2. Your engineering study must cover key points

Projects within the 100-year floodplain

If your project location is within the regulatory floodplain (commonly called the 100-year floodplain), FEMA has already prepared that engineering study for you. You can simply use FEMA's Flood Insurance Study (FIS) and Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) to document the flood hazard in your project area. This data can be used as supporting documentation in your application for hazard mitigation assistance.

Projects outside the regulatory floodplain

If your project area is outside of the regulatory floodplain (sometimes referred to as urban flooding), it may still be eligible for FEMA funding! You’ll need to:

  • have your own engineering study that shows that the area is at risk of flooding and document the risk in different storm events, and

  • document the vulnerability of the structures that you're looking to protect (if you're looking to protect residential homes or businesses, for example, you need to show that they do flood during those storm events and that they are at risk of flooding).

flooded community full of homes

3. Preparing an application for FEMA funding

Once you have a qualified engineering study, you can then prepare your application. A large part of that application is the benefit-cost analysis. This is exactly what it sounds like–a process that proves the project's cost is less than the benefits the completed project will provide.

As a simple example, if the buildings affected by the flood mitigation project have combined benefits of $2.5 Million and the project will cost $2 Million, then the benefits outweigh the costs. In this example, the Benefit-Cost Ratio (BCR) is greater than one, which is one of the eligibility criteria you must meet to apply for funding.

FEMA has proprietary software you must use to prove the Benefit-Cost Ratio. You can download it from their website and use the software to show the benefits outweigh the costs of the project and document how you came to that conclusion. Enter that data into the FEMA software, along with all other required documentation, and submit your application.

There is a special note for this step–even if you're approved for Pre-Disaster Mitigation Congressional Directed Spending, you still need to submit an application to receive the funding. It may feel like a shoo-in, but the project still needs to meet FEMA's eligibility criteria.

4. Hire an expert to write the FEMA grant application the right way

If you have not submitted one of these applications in the past, I recommend you hire a specialist. These are very complex applications that have to be prepared within a very short timeframe–sometimes in just two weeks! The completed application must demonstrate that your project will reduce the risk of future flood damage. Without experience preparing applications that meet FEMA's rigorous criteria, it is a difficult deadline to meet.

You’ll want to look for someone who specifically has a great track record of FEMA grant success for projects that reduce or eliminate flood damage. There are several kinds of grants, and most are competitive grant programs. I have worked on many of these applications and have been able to secure over $30 million in FEMA FMA and PDM funding (which is now BRIC) for my communities.

Specifically, I secured $11.5 million in FEMA funding and then an additional $4 million in local grants for a mitigation project where we bought out over 70 residential homes. These homes were severely damaged. They had flooded multiple times and they didn't have any other options but to demolish the structures. What that did for the community was remove those residents from this high-risk area and made a positive impact on that community.

There are also other types of projects, infrastructure projects, for example, that are also eligible for funding. So, if you have questions, maybe you have a project that has been sitting on the shelf that you would like to move forward, and you're looking for funding to get that project off the ground, set up a time to chat with me.

Let's get your grant application going before we miss that narrow funding window in your state!

FEMA grants for suburban communities

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) Programs?

There are four HMA programs offered by FEMA that provide funding for mitigation projects and planning activities to reduce or eliminate the risk to people and property from future disasters (including floods).

The four programs are:

  • Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC)

  • Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA)

  • Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP)

  • Pre-Disaster Mitigation Congressionally Directed Spending (PDM CDS)

There is an overview of each of these programs on UrbanHydro's Services page. This page highlights when the funding is available, who is eligible to apply, and the eligible project types under each program.

What is the Application Process for FEMA grants?

To apply for funding, a community must first identify potential projects. Communities cannot apply directly to FEMA. Applications are submitted to the state's Emergency Management Agency, which determines which projects will be submitted to FEMA and considered for funding. Eligible projects must meet the following criteria:

  • The project must be specifically proposed to mitigate flood hazards.

  • The project must be technically feasible, cost-effective, and reasonable.

  • The project must be capable of achieving the proposed benefits.

  • The project must be consistent with the community's hazard mitigation plan.

If the project is approved, eligible project costs will be reimbursed through the grant. The recipient of the grant is responsible for complying with all the award requirements and ensuring that the project is completed according to specifications. Grant administration may be a community role or contracted out to a specialist.


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