FEMA response: What’s next for Texas

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FEMA Chief: We'll be in Texas 'for years'
02:57 - Source: CNN

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Texas braces for a years-long recovery

There is money available now from several sources

CNN  — 

The water still hasn’t receded in much of southeastern Texas, but many people there are already looking toward the rebuilding process.

One Superstorm Sandy survivor has advice as those battered by Hurricane Harvey get ready to wade through the red tape of government assistance: “Be patient.”

Anthony Carone of Belle Harbor, Queens, received about $22,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency when the basement of his home on Rockaway Peninsula in New York was destroyed by Sandy’s floodwaters. But Carone believes if he had waited to complete his repairs until a broader range of government assistance was available, he may have been eligible for up to $20,000 more from various other agencies.

“Let the government have a chance to start implementing these programs,” he said.

In New York, for example, the federally funded NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program was created to provide grants to homeowners, though some reported not getting money for a year or two after Sandy struck.

Resources available

As Texas braces for a years-long recovery, there is money available now from several sources, some less apparent than others.

“The first step is registering with FEMA. Then, contact the Small Business Administration through their website,” said former director of Disaster Planning for the US Small Business Administration, Ret. Rear Admiral Steven G. Smith.

While FEMA provides grants,”many people don’t realize that SBA is the principal government lending agency for homeowners in disaster recovery,” said Smith, who retired from SBA in 2016.

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 96,000 households have been approved for FEMA assistance, the agency said, with more than $57 million approved. Of that, $9.5 million was approved for housing assistance, FEMA said. Approximately $47.7 million has been approved for other needs, including personal property and transportation.

The majority of the funding came as expedited rental assistance, which provides up to $2,000 per month, and Critical Needs Assistance, which is a one-time payment of $500, the agency said.

FEMA provides funding for a wide range of needs: short-term housing for people who won’t be able to return home for an extended period of time; food, water, medication and other critical needs; disaster unemployment assistance; home repairs; and uninsured property losses. FEMA also offers advance payments of up to $5,000 for people who have National Flood Insurance Program coverage; though only about two-in-10 homeowners along Harvey’s path are insured by NFIP.

While FEMA is already doling out dollars, homeowners as well as business owners have until October 24 to apply for an SBA loan for any physical damage to their property. The deadline extends to May 25, 2018, for any economic injury resulting from Hurricane Harvey.

As of August 30, SBA has already received 1,210 disaster applications, with 1,150 of those from homeowners and renters, according to SBA spokeswoman Carol Chastang.

So far, two home disaster loans have already been approved, for a total of $141,600.

The SBA offers a range of loans: Business Physical Disaster Loans; Economic Injury Disaster Loans; and Home Disaster Loans. Former SBA director of Disaster Planning Steven G. Smith describes the differentiation between FEMA grants and SBA loans like this: “FEMA grants are focused on getting people back into their homes or temporary shelter. SBA loans are focused on restoring your residence to your pre-disaster condition.”

Homeowners are eligible for disaster loans up to $200,000 to repair and replace damaged or destroyed real estate, and up to $40,000 to repair or replace personal property. Businesses may borrow up to $2 million to repair or replace real estate, with economic injury loans capped also capped at $2 million. Interest rates can be as low as 1.75% for homeowners and renters, and 3.305% for businesses, with terms up to 30 years.

‘Save houses’

FEMA Director Brock Long has stressed the importance of saving homes with both FEMA money and SBA loans once the rescue work is complete.

“The next goal is save houses,” Long said. “As the water starts to recede, we gotta go in. This is where the volunteers need to be organized, helping people muck out their houses. Get the wet carpet, get the wet drywall out. Make simple repairs to hopefully get people back in their houses.”

But more programs and funding may be needed.

Even though the damage is still being assessed, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott proclaimed the disaster region to be “far larger” than the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. Elaine Duke, the acting Homeland Security secretary, echoed the sentiment.

“We expect a many year recovery in Texas and the federal government is in this for the long haul,” she said.

Superstorm Sandy survivor Anthony Carone recalled his dismay when he discovered the destruction in the basement of his home after the storm moved through, and remembered thinking: “It makes you really stop and wonder what the federal government will do to help. You’re hoping they can step in.”

Many in Texas are hoping so, too.