3 min read

How to maximize your non-federal cost share credits

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"Finding $100 bills in your couch!"


Your office of emergency management may be about to spend thousands, if not millions, of dollars unnecessarily.

Every year, agencies pay 10-25% non-federal cost share for their disaster response even though they could reduce that amount - for free.

Correctly documenting eligible volunteer labor donated during disasters can earn FEMA "credits" that may be deducted from your state, local, and tribal disaster bill.  

Unfortunately, many agencies and organizations do not realize or are not prepared to capture all the hours offered by people anxious to help during crises.

"25% Can be a budget-buster!"

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Ken Skalitzky, Former Emergency Management Director at Volunteer Florida shared:

"Emergency managers' top concern is evacuating and protecting people after an event. This is a huge mental and physical effort, and frankly, accurately capturing volunteer sign-ins is not top-of-mind at the time of an emergency." 

"The other reality is that volunteers want to help feed, shelter, and protect people, not fill out paperwork." 

"Years after landfall, more than $50 billion in federal funds were provided for recovery efforts for Hurricane Irma. I estimate that the state of Florida lost out on $75M in additional off-sets due to inadequate records."

Former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate recently explained to a Merit digital event audience that it all comes down to documenting. According to Fugate, documenting eligible volunteer hours can make the difference between community fiscal survival and breaking the budget.

Maximizing your cost-share credit is just three steps away


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Increase awareness

Let your entire team and community know how important it is to document all donated volunteer labor.

Whether you're hosting a training session for professionals or working with the general public at preparedness events, tell everyone that every hour donated during emergencies may help defray the enormous costs of disasters, including the most expensive:

  • debris removal
  • rebuilding critical infrastructure
  • restoring necessary utilities

Make sure established volunteers in your community know that documenting their activities during emergencies is another way they can advance recovery.

  • share your plan to document volunteer hours verbally during all training events, 
  • distribute signs and flyers in the community and at emergency services offices
  • host or share digital FEMA ICS 214 training sessions online, so people know how to complete activity forms for reimbursement.


Establishing volunteer staging areas for registration and deployment is a critical component of disaster preparedness. You can support cost recovery reporting at your volunteer centers by:

  • posting reminders for volunteers urging them to jot down activities during their shifts along with their location
  • provide, when possible, adequate space where volunteers can comfortably complete documentation

But what exactly ARE the common credit-eligible activities? FEMA lists them as:

  • occurrences or events such as task assignments, task completions, injuries, difficulties encountered, etc.
  • how relevant incident activities are progressing or any 
  • events or communications
  • individual notable activities

Ok, Now make it even easier!

In a recent Merit poll of 500 emergency responders, nearly one-third shared that their agencies still rely on pen-and-paper systems to record their activities.

They shared that completing forms may take up to an hour. That's a lot of extra work for people who are exhausted, hungry, and often emotionally impacted by the tragic circumstances surrounding them.

Paper ICS 214s do not provide activity descriptions automatically for volunteers, many of whom may not know how to describe their contributions. Many credit-eligible hours are lost.

Providing a digital ICS 214 experience for volunteers is the perfect way to maximize your reimbursement by streamlining the process.

Credential-Driven Accountability



Advanced digital 214s are rooted in verified credentials issued by your agency to volunteers ahead of a disaster or rapidly on-site.

Once a volunteer accepts a digital incident certificate on a mobile app, check-in and check-outs deliver a verifiable receipt that tracks activity geo-locations and documents every hour.

Digital credential registration generates pre-populated forms, so the volunteer only needs to add activities selected from drop-downs. These contain pre-approved activity options for volunteers.

Digital 214 forms deliver automated reports that save weeks, if not months, spent rectifying or completing missing information. 

Your off-set credit depends on fully documenting the ACTIVITIES your volunteers engage in during the emergency cycle, especially response.

Mr. Fugate shared that incomplete or vague activity descriptions are the most common reason that FEMA is required to reject crediting volunteer in-kind labor donations as credit-eligible. 


Not convinced yet? Watch the VOAD story!

The ten million members of the National Volunteers Active in Disasters (NVOAD) dedicated 48 million hours to response and recovery, according to the 2021 VOAD Triennial Review. 

This life-saving service was valued at over 1.4 billion dollars.

Imagine if your communities could document even a fraction of these volunteer hours how much you could save on cost-share.

What does an all-digital look like in the field?

Merit VFE Social

Watch Merit at work!

Florida Division of Emergency Management relied on Merit's verified identity accountability platform during the tragic Surfside condominium collapse last year.

Read here how the digital credentials made capturing volunteer hours rapid and easy for Florida's exhausted crews.


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