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FEMA crew members go door to door in north Houston

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

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

When asked if she wanted to sign up for help from the government agency, she said, “Man, they (FEMA) won’t do anything. »

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

“We see what their needs might be that the state or the federal government hasn’t considered or paid attention to,” said Joanna Ihenacho, FEMA DSA Crew 5 manager. “So our job is to get information from the street, all the way up the chain of communication.”

Most of the damage in this part of north Houston was to the area’s vegetation: broken branches from downed trees and clumps of bushes littered the edges.

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Piles of vegetation lie in front of homes 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 because some problems with her roof had started before the end of April, outside of the disaster reporting period. Crew members suggested she apply despite this, saying there were new reforms regarding individual aid.

Philip Wardi, a crew member, said that before the changes, FEMA would not have helped if a home had already suffered damage. But now, if a resident has pre-existing damage, they are still potentially eligible for assistance as long as the disaster worsens their condition.

Wardi described the changes as great news for many people. By Tuesday afternoon, the crew had registered three people and came across a man who had asked for help because he didn’t qualify for help the first time he applied. Ihenacho told him about the steps to take if he wanted to appeal.

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Team leader Joanna Ihenacho said those who don’t qualify are given information about local resources that might 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 severe weather have received approximately $68.5 million in financial assistance. These funds can be used for repairs, moving expenses, or rental assistance, among other disaster-related needs.

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

Although some registrants have received confirmation from the government that they are eligible, others are still unsure whether they can receive federal funds. Some residents said they applied weeks ago and had not yet been contacted by the government agency.

Kelly said delays in FEMA’s response could occur if the applying resident forgets to file all 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 eligible for relief funds had received federal dollars by the second week of June. The agency did not respond to the Press request.

“There are always people who don’t want to talk or who are unhappy with the system,” Ihenacho said. “We don’t set the rules. Our job is to get registrations and community resources to survivors. We need to make sure they are safe, hygienic and secure. It’s our job.

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FEMA spokeswoman Rebecca Kelly said 25 DSA crews were responding to severe weather damage in Texas.

Photo by Faith Bugenhagen

Most people registered for individual assistance are tenants. As of Monday, about 69,000 homeowners and 89,000 renters were processed through the agency’s system. More than 159,000 people in the 35 counties in the federal disaster declaration have registered, and there are about 3,500 new registrations per day.