FEMA, Other Relief Efforts Post-Hurricane Harvey Exceed $12 Billion But Black Businesses Still Rebounding


It has been six months since Hurricane Harvey hit and devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of Houston-area residents. But new information shows that survivors—including African American families—have received more than $12 billion to help them recover from the catastrophic storm in August.

State and federal disaster assistance consists of aid from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grants, United States Small Business Administration (SBA) low-interest disaster loans, and National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) flood-insurance payments as of Jan. 9, 2018, says Buddy Howard, a spokesman for FEMA in Austin, Texas.

The funding includes $1.5 billion from the Individuals and Households Program (IHP), $1.15 billion for Housing Assistance (HA), and $364 million from Other Needs Assistance (ONA)—all FEMA programs.

For the SBA, 106,607 total applications were received. A total of $3.03 billion in SBA loans were approved, including $2.72 billion for homeowners and $304 million for businesses, Howard says.

On the flood insurance front, $7.56 billion in advance payments and claims were allocated for payment to nearly 91,000 policyholders from the NFIP. Some 366,384 people were approved for assistance for Harvey as of Jan. 8, says Deanna Frazier, a FEMA spokesperson.

She says more than 60 inches of rain hit parts of Houston in the storm. “I don’t think we can really appreciate the damage that amount of water can produce,” she says. “The $12 billion is a significant amount of money that is going to help people recover from Hurricane Harvey.”

Some observers have estimated that damages from Harvey could cost $180 billion to $250 billion, easily making it one of the nation’s worst natural disasters. Texas Governor Greg Abbott in late October asked Congress for an extra $61 billion in federal disaster recovery money to rebuild public infrastructure after Harvey’s devastation, the Texas Tribune reported.

Frazier says survivors are mainly using disaster money for rental assistance, housing repair, and replacement of personal property such as beds and kitchen appliances. Another effort, the FEMA Public Assistance (PA) Program, reimburses state and local governments and certain private nonprofit groups in designated counties for eligible and documented expenses due to federal disaster. For Harvey in Texas, eligible applicants will receive at least 90% of their costs to protect people and property, remove debris, restore power, and repair or replace infrastructure.

More than $504 million in PA funding has been obligated to the state of Texas, as of Jan. 9. The Texas Division of Emergency Management has received 1,109 Requests for Public Assistance to date.

But among the biggest concerns with Harvey is that is that many people ravaged by the storm did not have flood insurance.

Robert Hunter, director of insurance at the Consumer Federation of America, told the media shortly after the storm that in the hurricane’s path along the Gulf Coast, only two in 10 homeowners have insurance coverage. He estimated some $35 billion of damage from just flooding caused by Harvey, paralleling Hurricane Katrina.

But roughly half of the flooded homes hit by Katrina had flood insurance coverage.

Another entity, the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund (HHRF), continues to help Harvey flood victims. It announced plans last month to disburse another $27.6 million to 28 local nonprofit organizations to provide relief to Hurricane Harvey flood victims in Houston and Harris County. That move boosts the total distribution of money by the fund to $64.4 million.

The fund, founded by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, will distribute another $43 million or more in future rounds. As of Jan. 16, over $110.6 million has been raised. The newest round of funding will provide direct financial aid and services to an estimated 12,470 households with 71,328 individuals. The Greater Houston Community Foundation oversees the HHRF.

“As recovery and rebuilding efforts continue, new challenges and needs arise. The Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund (HHRF) is specifically designed to address these evolving needs,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner stated. “For this third round of funding, we had boots on the ground to evaluate needs in affected areas and get the most accurate, updated information as possible to ensure grants made were aligned with our city’s real-time needs. I believe the grantees will make a real difference in the lives of so many that are still working to pick up the pieces.”

The grants will provide victims with several types of aid, including financial assistance, basic needs, legal aid as well as furniture, furnishings, and appliances.

Tony Chase, a co-chair of the HHRF, says that most of the funds are still being used to meet needs not being met by government efforts. “We’re still trying to fill the gap that funding from FEMA and other sources don’t cover,” he says.

Further, sources such as the Greater Houston Black Chamber (GHBC) Disaster Relief Fund, Texas Capital Bank, LiftFund, and others have provided over $200,000 in funding since September 2017 to help black businesses rebuild post-Hurricane Harvey, says Courtney Johnson-Rose, the GHBC’s board chair.

But Rose says black small businesses need additional support from more donors to help them fully recover. She noted that the SBA has been the No. 1 resource for those businesses with low-interest loans for rebuilding. “A lot of the (federal and state) relief programs are geared toward family rebuilding and not necessarily for business recovery.”