Weather

FEMA Crews Go Door-to-Door Monday With Not Always Well-Received Offers of Help

Crew members talk to a resident after she said she received no help from the agency after Hurricane Harvey.
Crew members talk to a resident after she said she received no help from the agency after Hurricane Harvey. Photo by Faith Bugenhagen

As members of a FEMA crew spread out across two streets in Houston's Hidden Valley neighborhood Monday that had been hard hit by April flooding and the May's derecho storm, most residents were welcoming enough, but not all.

One woman who had a leak in her roof caused by the shingles collecting water began yelling at two crew members who approached her. The Federal Emergency Management Agency didn’t help her during Hurricane Harvey, she told them.

When asked if she wanted to register to qualify for assistance from the government agency, she declared:    “Man, they [FEMA] won’t do nothing."

Undeterred, members of the FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance spoke with her, eventually getting her to agree to sign up to see if she qualified for assistance. After they completed the 20 to 30 minute process, the crew continued knocking on doors along Rainy River and Rutherford Lane.

“We see what their needs might be that either the state or the feds have not considered, nor paid attention to,” said FEMA DSA Crew 5 Lead Joanna Ihenacho “So, our job is to get information from the street, up the chain of command."

Most of the damage in this stretch of north Houston was to the area’s vegetation -- broken branches of downed trees and clusters of bushes littered the curbs.

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Piles of vegetation sit out front of the houses along Rainy River Drive and Rutherford Lane.
Photo by Faith Bugenhagen
The woman who complained about her past experiences with FEMA, was concerned she might not qualify for assistance as some of the issues with her roof started before late April, which was outside the disaster declaration period. Crew members suggested she apply despite this, saying there were new reforms to individual assistance.

Philip Wardi, a crew member, said before the changes, FEMA wouldn't have helped if a home had previous damage. But now, if a resident has pre-existing damage, they can still be potentially eligible for assistance as long as the disaster worsens its condition.

Wardi described the modifications as great news for many people. By Tuesday afternoon, the crew had registered three people and ran into a man who asked for help because he did not qualify for assistance the first time he applied. Ihenacho talked to him about what steps to take if he wanted to appeal.
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Crew lead Joanna Ihenacho said those who may not qualify are provided with information about local resources that may be able to help.
Photo by Faith Bugenhagen
According to reports, as of Wednesday, June 5, more than 30,000 residents affected by the recent bad weather have been approved to receive roughly $68.5 million in financial assistance. These funds can be used toward repairs, displacement costs or rental assistance, among other disaster-related needs.

Rebecca Kelly, a FEMA spokeswoman, said the maximum amount that can be provided to an individual is $42,500.

Although some who have registered have heard confirmation from the government that they do qualify, others remain unaware if they can receive federal dollars. Some residents indicated that they applied weeks ago and have yet to be contacted by the government agency.

Kelly indicated that delays in hearing back from FEMA could occur if the resident applying forgets to file all the necessary paperwork or misses a follow-up call requesting more information to qualify.

The Houston Press asked FEMA to confirm what portion of the 30,000 residents who qualified for the assistance funds were sent federal dollars by the second week of June. The agency did not respond to the Press’s request.

“There are always people who either don’t want to speak, who are upset at the system,” Ihenacho said. “We don’t make the rules. Our job is to get the registrations and community resources to survivors. We need to make sure that they’re safe, sanitary and secure. That is our job.”
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FEMA spokeswoman Rebecca Kelly said there are 25 DSA crews responding to Texas's severe weather damage.
Photo by Faith Bugenhagen
Most individuals who have registered for individual assistance have been renters. As of Monday, roughly 69,000 owners and 89,000 renters were processed in the agency's system. Over 159,000 individuals across the 35 counties in the federal disaster declaration have registered, and there are about 3,500 new registrations daily.
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Faith Bugenhagen is on staff as a news reporter for The Houston Press, assigned to cover the Greater-Houston area.