Seventy-seven Texas counties, including all in the Houston-Beaumont region, have been declared eligible for FEMA assistance following the winter storm.
By Barrett White
Last week’s winter storm was yet another 100-year event we have collectively experienced in the last few years. As fellow Texans who weathered the storm ourselves, Legacy sympathizes with and supports our patient family who may have lost their homes to water damage, been displaced, or found themselves without food or water during the event and in the aftermath.
President Biden has signed a disaster declaration for Texas, so we’re going to take a close look at how FEMA can help us recover, and how to start the process.
Per FEMA, individuals with homeowners or renters insurance must find out from their insurance provider what the provider is able to cover before asking FEMA for assistance. By law, FEMA cannot duplicate benefits (meaning that they cannot cover losses that were already covered by your private insurance). If your insurance provider does not cover all of the damage you sustained in the winter storm, you may be eligible for assistance from FEMA.
The emergency declaration lists 77 counties that qualify for assistance (listed at the end of this blog). Residents of these counties can start their FEMA application process as follows:
- Head over to disasterassistance.gov.
- Click on the “Find Assistance” link.
- Fill out the categories you think you may be eligible for.
- You will see a list of resources that may be applicable to your situation.
Here are the options that are most likely to be of use to most Texans at this time:
Your home sustained damage due to the weather in the winter storm
If your home was damaged by the winter storm, you have two primary options:
- Home and Property Disaster Loans though the Small Business Administration. These are low-interest, long-term loans for losses not fully covered by insurance. You can borrow up to $200,000 to repair or replace your home. You cannot use the loan to upgrade or add on to the home unless required by building code. Under certain circumstances, rental properties may qualify as well.
- The FEMA Individuals and Households Program (IHP) Housing Assistance Program. IHP assistance is not a substitute for insurance and cannot compensate for all losses caused by a disaster. The assistance is intended to meet your basic needs and supplement disaster recovery efforts. IHP assistance may include temporary housing or funds to repair or replace your home.
You may begin your application for either of the above at www.disasterassistance.gov by clicking “Apply Online”, or by calling 800-621-3362.
You were displaced from your home by the freeze.
In this case, the FEMA Individuals and Households Program (IHP) Housing Assistance Program, discussed above, is likely the way to go.
From the FEMA website: The program provides temporary Housing Assistance allowing homeowners or renters to rent a temporary place to live if your home is unlivable because of the disaster, and you have no insurance coverage for temporary housing. If there are no rental properties available, as a last resort, a government housing unit may be provided in some areas. The program also offers reimbursement of hotel expenses for homeowners or renters for short periods of time due to inaccessibility or utility outage, if not covered by insurance.
You may begin your application for the IHP Housing Assistance Program at www.disasterassistance.gov by clicking “Apply Online”, or by calling 800-621-3362.
Your business was damaged or lost in the freeze
If your business sustained damage due to the freeze, there are options for you. You may apply for Business Disaster Loans with the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The Business Disaster Loans program provides assistance to small business owners with low-interest, long-term loans for losses not fully covered by insurance. Per FEMA’s website, the Small Business Administration’s disaster loans are the primary federal assistance offered to repair and rebuild small businesses. Businesses of all sizes as well as private non-profit organizations may borrow up to $2 million to repair or replace the following:
- Damaged or destroyed real estate
- Machinery and equipment
- Inventory and other business assets.
You can start the application process through FEMA at www.disasterassistance.gov by clicking “Apply Online”, or by calling 800-621-3362.
Loss of power caused all your food to spoil
Low-income families who lost food due to the winter storm may be eligible for D-SNAP, or the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. You can sign up by contacting the Texas SNAP office. The D-SNAP program will only remain active for as long as your county is declared a disaster area. You can read more about it here.
Just like with regular SNAP benefits, if you’re approved for D-SNAP you will receive an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, which you can use like a debit card. You can read more about it at this link (tick the “Food” option in the first question).
You have been saddled with an unaffordable electricity or utility bill
If you are on a variable-rate plan with your electricity provider, you might have been appalled to see your bill skyrocket when power was restored. Don’t panic, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) may be able to assist with that bill.
Head over to the Texas Department of Housing website. Click “Utility Bill Payment Help” and search for your city and county at the bottom of the page.
To learn more about LIHEAP and how you can apply, contact the National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR) Project. You can call 1-866-674-6327 or email NEAR at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional options for help
If you live within a disaster-declared county, you may have more time to file your taxes. You can read more about that here.
The counties included in the disaster declaration are as follows. Counties in the Houston Metro Area and surrounding Beaumont are indicated in bold.
Angelina, Aransas, Bastrop, Bee, Bell, Bexar, Blanco, Brazoria, Brazos, Brown, Burleson, Caldwell, Calhoun, Cameron, Chambers, Collin, Comal, Comanche, Cooke, Coryell, Dallas, Denton, DeWitt, Ellis, Falls, Fort Bend, Galveston, Gillespie, Grimes, Guadalupe, Hardin, Harris, Hays, Henderson, Hidalgo, Hood, Jasper, Jefferson, Johnson, Kaufman, Kendall, Lavaca, Liberty, Madison, Matagorda, Maverick, McLennan, Montague, Montgomery, Nacogdoches, Nueces, Orange, Palo Pinto, Panola, Parker, Polk, Rockwall, Sabine, San Jacinto, San Patricio, Scurry, Shelby, Smith, Stephens, Tarrant, Travis, Tyler, Upshur, Van Zandt, Victoria, Walker, Waller, Wharton, Wichita, Williamson, Wilson, and Wise.