Lesson 8 – Getting Help From “Above”

“God helps those who help themselves.” – Benjamin Franklin

In the wake of a disaster we are honor-bound to help ourselves, our families, or friends, our neighbors, our community, and all of humanity, to the extent we are able to do so. As Christians we consider this a moral imperative. But we do not have to do it all by ourselves.

Being closest to the source, your local congregation has the logical first-line responsibility of dealing with a local disaster. A call to the Hudson River Presbytery will get you some help, particularly in coordinating assistance from other congregations in the area.  As a Middle Governing Body in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) the Hudson River Presbytery is the first step in requesting material and financial resources for relief and recovery efforts from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) is the emergency and refugee program of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) The core budget, including staff and administrative costs, is funded through the One Great Hour of Sharing, and its program work is additionally funded through designated gifts.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance enables congregations and mission partners of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to witness to the healing love of Christ through caring for communities adversely affected by crisis and catastrophic event.


  • Focuses on the long term recovery of disaster impacted communities.
  • Provides training and disaster preparedness for presbyteries and synods.
  • Works collaboratively with church partners and other faith based responders nationally, and with members of the ACT Alliance (Action by Churches Together) internationally.
  • Connects partners locally and internationally with key organizations active in the response — United Nations, NVOAD (National Voluntary Agencies Active in Disaster), World Food Program, Red Cross, FEMA and others.

PDA Grants

PDA provides limited funding for damaged churches. When a church is damaged more than a building is affected. The whole community suffers from the lack of worship space, facilities to use in relief and recovery, as well as the emotional and spiritual effects of loss of one’s faith center.

Initial Grant : A one-time grant (per disaster) that is distributed by a single disbursement for an amount of $7,500 or less and no formal grant agreement is utilized to track expenditures. An Initial Grant is made to a Presbytery with a historic mission relationship that has been affected by a disaster but may have a limited ability to respond on a broad community level.  The Initial Grant will enable a response to needs within their own constituency.

Church Damage Assistance Grant: Limited to $5,000 per disaster per church with a $25,000 maximum per presbytery for the purpose of ensuring the continued ministry of the church. The potential grant recipient requests a grant by submitting a grant application/letter of intent through the presbytery’s leadership; presbyter or stated clerk.

Long-Term Recovery Grants: The purpose of long-term recovery is to assist survivors in using available resources to rebuild in conjunction with volunteers and the staff of long-term recovery groups.  There are Different types of Long-Term Recovery Grants, including the following:

  • Seed Grant: One-time grant, limited to $5,000, for the start-up costs of setting up a long-term recovery group or volunteer host site.
  • Special Project Grant: Awarded through the Presbytery to an established long-term recovery group for the purpose of funding their project.  These grants can also be used for other recovery, preparation and mitigation needs, including, but not limited to, supporting volunteer hosting.
  • Pastoral Resilience Support Grant: Can be no more than $10,000 and is used to cover the cost of respite for a disaster-impacted pastor at a retreat center such as the Davidson Center for Clergy and Professions.

PDA Domestic Grants – Descriptions and Guidelines

Needs Assessment

This is one of the most important functions of the Hudson River Presbytery Disaster Preparedness Team and your church. Assessment and reporting are the two pieces that engage support, communicate the need and open the door to a variety of volunteers and funding. Timely, accurate reporting of the early assessments of both the impact of the disaster and capacity of the community to recover are key to moving the response and recovery forward in appropriate ways.

Assessment is the process of gauging the impact of the disaster on the community, local congregations, the Presbytery and the capacity of those sectors to respond to the needs generated by the event. While the public agencies will assess damage to property and infrastructure, like the number of homes damaged or destroyed and the destruction of bridges; the initial assessment of the Presbytery includes more.

In order to organize and develop a response that meets the needs of the community it is also important to know the impact of the disaster on churches, church leadership and congregations as well as how the disaster has affected the ability for the community to function.

Waiting for a complete public (government) assessment of impact can be counter productive. It is important that the Presbytery and the affected churches begin immediately to assess the impact of the disaster on the community as well as the churches themselves.

The Presbytery or PDA Response Team should take the lead in the assessment process and should utilize the report format specified in PDA and Presbytery guidance. The Needs Assessment checklist will include:

  1. Contact with all churches in the affected area to determine physical damage church facilities, impact on church leadership and the impact on their community.
  2. Contact with Presbytery leadership to determine the impact on them. If the leaders are preoccupied with debris removal at their homes or even living in a shelter, they will not be available to assist in the response. Health and welfare checks on all leaders, including pastors can reveal needs that may be missed by public agencies.
  3. Contact with members of the Presbytery Disaster Preparedness/Response Team to gauge capacity for response and get their input about needs
  4. Calls to other denominations in the area to find out their assessment of the impact of the disaster and discuss how they intend to respond.

The Needs Assessment report becomes a planning basis for continued immediate and long-term response, re;lief and recovery activities at all levels.  The needs assessment report will be shared with all affected area church leaders, to confirm it’s accuracy and timeliness.  It will also be shared with government response and recovery agencies as input to their assessments.

If PDA grants financial assistance to the Presbytery and/or local churches, meetings will be conducted,  with churches individually or in a group, to explain the administrative measures for such assistance.

Oh yes …  there is a paper trail.

More …

In addition to funds, PDA has a National Response Team (NRT). Members of the team can respond to the Presbytery to:

  • Support the work of the Presbytery and provide valuable assistance in assessment and communication
  • Connect the Presbytery to partner agencies and other denominations.
  • Stand with the Presbytery and represent the connectional church to pastors, congregations and Presbytery leadership in a time of loss.

7-7PDA can provide tools and equipment for short-term recovery such as clean up kits (a mop bucket filled with cleaning supplies), shovels, rakes and protective suits for mucking out and mold remediation. These supplies may be collected and provided through the efforts of other congregations.

PDA also supports long-term recovery including tools, equipment and even T-shirts for volunteers.

PDA National Response Team Overview

The Federal Declaration Process – Federal Disaster Assistance

Most emergencies must be borne by the victims of the disaster, but some are large enough to request government assistance. The federal government financially assists local and state governments and its citizens to recover when the emergency is a disaster.

Under the Stafford Act (federal law), a community requesting federal assistance must prove they have been overwhelmed by events. Not only must the local government must be overwhelmed, but state capabilities must be overwhelmed as well. Any request to the President for federal assistance must reflect how local capabilities have been exceeded.

As a foundation to this proof, the local government should declare a local emergency (by proclamation of the mayor) under Article 2B of New York State Executive Law. A survey must be performed by local emergency officials, who may be assisted by the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (NYS DHSES) to decide if the damages in the county will meet predetermined threshold amounts based upon population, and to determine if a state threshold amount based upon population has been met as well. Both thresholds must be met before the county is eligible to apply for federal assistance under the Stafford Act. The County Executive (or the local emergency management director acting for the County Executive) must request a declaration of state emergency by the Governor. Federal assistance usually cannot be provided without a state declaration of emergency also.


Two thresholds must be met under the Stafford Act, a state threshold and a county threshold. These thresholds are based on a pre-determined legal formula that disaster damages must exceed.  The formula uses population of the jurisdiction as determined in the last official U.S. Census which is then entered to multiply population by $3.50 per capita for counties and $1.39 per capita for the state. The individual ceiling is $32,400 and small project grants ceiling is $68,500. These figures are for FY 2014.

If you are still unsure of whether you should stay in contact with local and county emergency management officials, consider this: They may not know what your people are suffering unless you tell them. And you need for them to know.

A disaster sometimes gradually increases or spreads slowly to involve or merge several locations as part of the same event. County emergency management officials report ongoing situations and damage assessments to the state emergency operations center. If the state determines that the many local emergencies are actually part of a larger emergency which has grown to exceed all capabilities, the Governor may issue a proclamation of a single state emergency that covers all of the local emergencies based upon the collective finding.

To determine whether a threshold will be met, the local government and NYS DSHES partner in an informal survey (“windshield survey”) to estimate the damages incurred in the jurisdiction. This estimate is collected by the state to determine the total damages of all jurisdictions involved in the event and whether the combined amounts may exceed the threshold amounts. When the estimate is near or over the threshold amounts, the Governor may request FEMA to provide preliminary damage assessment (PDA) teams or federal officials who do a more thorough review with state authorities to make the official determination. The PDA is used to determine whether federal disaster funds will be provided.

Types of Disaster Assistance

Ladder of Assistance

There are four types of federal disaster assistance. Two of these must be requested through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), one must be requested through the U. S. Small Business Administration and one is an option which may be invoked by FEMA due to significant impact. The assistance includes:

  • Individual assistance
  • Public assistance
  • SBA loans
  • FEMA grants

Each of these types of federal assistance offers differing types of help. None of these options provide all encompassing funds that will fully replace losses, but they do assist in starting recovery. Often, a local community has volunteer disaster organizations that offer services, materiel, loans or cash to further assist in the difference.

The government does not typically coordinate the award of non-government disaster assistance, but when it is available FEMA  and NYS DHSES will direct deserving persons to the appropriate contact.

Sequence of Delivery

Whether your community of faith provides assistance through a formal case management process or more informally, it is important to understand that it is part of a delivery system encompassing other care-giving agencies and that assistance programs are accessed in a certain order known as the “sequence of delivery.” This sequence allows government agencies and voluntary organizations to work together to maximize resources and avoid duplication of services.

In a disaster with a federal declaration, the sequence of delivery starts with local government and voluntary agencies providing emergency food, clothing, shelter and medical assistance. Individuals and families then turn to insurance and other personal resources after which they can look to the FEMA Individual and Household Program which addresses needs for temporary and replacement housing and/or home repair and construction.

If survivors still have not received sufficient assistance, they can apply for a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan or FEMA Other Needs Assistance if they do not meet SBA qualifications. Finally, long-term community-based recovery groups  — including local religious and secular care-giving agencies which coordinate their activities and work cooperatively and collaboratively – address unmet needs.

In an undeclared disaster, community and agency resources must meet needs that personal and family insurance and resources do not cover following emergency assistance.


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