Nearly 894,000 Texans Apply for FEMA Harvey Aid
Nearly 894,000 people in Texas met this week’s deadline to register for federal disaster assistance to help them recover from Hurricane Harvey, with more than $1.4 billion in funding approved so far, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.
But officials and nonprofit groups say more funding will be needed to help the state rebuild and reach those who live in the shadows and might not have easy access to resources to assist in their recovery.
“There are thousands of people living in homes within our city that need to be quickly remediated, repaired or rebuilt. So we need more resources,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
After several extensions, FEMA had set Nov. 30 as the deadline for Texans affected by Harvey to register for federal help. By registering, residents will be eligible for a variety of assistance, including temporary housing and repair or replacement of damaged homes. Only residents in the 41 Texas counties included in the federal disaster declaration were eligible to apply.
Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 storm on Aug. 25 about 180 miles (290 kilometers) southwest of Houston. It damaged or destroyed around 200,000 homes and flooded much of Houston and smaller coastal communities with record amounts of rain and high winds.
By Thursday’s deadline, 893,798 Texans had registered, with 356,553 applications having so far been approved. FEMA said it has also provided $2.6 billion in disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration to 30,000 businesses and residents and more than $497 million to help the state and local governments with repairing infrastructure, removing debris and paying costs associated with first responders.
The passing of the deadline should not indicate that FEMA’s work in Texas is done, said agency spokesman Bob Howard. Many residents remain displaced, with nearly 40,000 people still living in hotels paid for by FEMA.
“We’re going to be here as long as the need is here. We’re here to support the state and the local communities,” Howard said.
In comparison to the two other big storms that hit this hurricane season, more than 2.6 million people in Florida registered for federal disaster assistance after Hurricane Irma with $940 million in assistance so far being approved, while more than 1 million people have registered in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria with more than $276 million approved.
Not everyone who needs help after Harvey applied with FEMA, as many people, including low income individuals and immigrants, might not have known to apply, said Elena Marks, president and CEO of Episcopal Health Foundation, a Houston-based nonprofit.
“There are a lot of people who are just in the shadows for one reason or another,” Marks said.
The foundation is hoping to help agencies reach these individuals with an analysis it did last month of assistance applications submitted to FEMA that identifies the zip codes in the 41 counties in the federal disaster declaration that submitted the most applications.
The analysis found the zip codes with the most applications were spread out across Southeast Texas and included areas of Port Arthur, Houston and its suburb of Dickinson and Rockport, near where Harvey made landfall.
“There’s a lot of pressure on the groups that have raised money to get the money out the door because people really are struggling,” she said. “The tension exists with knowing where that money is best spent and how do you know that if you don’t have data.”