After a week of record-breaking winter weather where many Texans were without power, heat, or water, communities are coming together to begin to repair damages. BCL has compiled a list of resources and tips to help you begin your recovery process, including information about insurance, FEMA, and disaster loans. Make sure you are always getting your information from a reliable source to avoid scammers.
Am I eligible for FEMA aid?
Update as of February 24th: The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved an additional 31 Texas counties to be added for disaster assistance. Counties included in this new approval are Anderson, Austin, Bosque, Bowie, Burnet, Cherokee, Colorado, Erath, Fannin, Freestone, Gonzales, Grayson, Gregg, Harrison, Hill, Houston, Hunt, Jackson, Jim Wells, Jones, Limestone, Lubbock, Medina, Milam, Navarro, Rusk, Taylor, Tom Green, Val Verde, Washington and Wood.
The 77 counties originally approved are still eligible as well. These counties are: 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 Counties.
To begin a FEMA application, visit their website or call 800-621-3362.
What does disaster assistance include?
FEMA disaster assistance may include financial assistance for temporary lodging and home repairs, low-interest loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help people and business owners recover. If you have insurance and are applying for disaster assistance, you must also file a claim with your insurance company as soon as possible.
Can I apply for FEMA for my business?
Yes, businesses are eligible for FEMA disaster assistance.
Can I use FEMA and my insurance?
If you have homeowners or renters insurance, file a claim with your insurance policy first. FEMA aid cannot pay your insurance deductible and it cannot duplicate insurance coverage.
Is FEMA providing food vouchers?
This is a rumor. FEMA is not providing direct food vouchers, but they are accepting applications for disaster assistance if you live in one of the 77 designated counties. Learn more at FEMA’s website here.
Should I file an insurance claim?
This is a personal decision, and the first step is to check on the amount of your deductible. In general, it is only helpful to file a claim if your losses are greater than your deductible. The next step is to call your insurance company and check on what your policy does and doesn’t cover.
If you are applying for disaster assistance through FEMA, then you must file a claim with your insurance company.
Will insurance cover my hotel stay?
It depends on the reason for your stay. According to the Texas Department of Insurance, most insurance policies won’t cover hotel costs if you went to stay somewhere to escape the power outages, but many do cover hotel costs that arise from storm damages. For example, if you stayed in a hotel because a pipe burst in your home, you’ll likely find your policy might pay for an alternative place to stay while you deal with repairs. And many policies will cover a new fridge full of groceries if yours spoiled from the power outages. The best advice is to call your insurance provider and ask.
Will my utility bill go up?
It depends. If your overall energy usage was higher than normal, that could cause a slight increase in your bill. But the large bill spikes some are talking about would only apply if you use a utility company with “variable rate pricing,” such as Griddy. Many Texans are on “fixed rate” electricity plans that insulate them from market swings. The Texas Public Utilities Commission plans to issue a moratorium on power disconnections for nonpayment and has urged retail electric providers to delay invoicing for customers. This situation is evolving, and we encourage you to check on any bills that are on autopay and speak directly to your utility provider if you have any questions.
Can BCL help me apply for FEMA aid or file an insurance claim?
While we are not specialists in these applications, we are happy to point you to the right resources. We also offer no-cost financial coaching to help you plan for future events, look at ways to get caught up on your budget, and stay in your home if you are having trouble paying your mortgage. Email us to schedule. We can also help you gather documents for an SBA Disaster Loan application.
SBA Disaster Loan
The SBA offers disaster assistance in the form of low interest loans to businesses, nonprofit organizations, homeowners, and renters located in regions affected by declared disasters. SBA also provides eligible small businesses and nonprofit organizations with working capital to help overcome the economic injury of a declared disaster. Learn more and apply here. Applicants may also call SBA’s Customer Service Center at (800) 659-2955 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on SBA disaster assistance.
FEMA disaster assistance may include financial assistance for temporary lodging and home repairs, low-interest loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help people and business owners recover. If you have insurance and are applying for disaster assistance, you must also file a claim with your insurance company as soon as possible. To apply for FEMA assistance, visit http://disasterassistance.gov or call: 800-621-3362 (TTY: 800-462-7585).
To ensure your application is processed as quickly as possible, follow these steps:
- Take photos of your damaged home and belongings.
- Make a list of lost or damaged items.
- If you have insurance, file a claim with your insurance company.
- Submit your FEMA application at http://disasterassistance.gov
Programs for Homeowners
Effective immediately, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is:
- Providing immediate foreclosure relief with an automatic 90-day moratorium on foreclosures of Federal Housing Administration (FHA)-insured home mortgages in the 77 disaster-declared counties.
- Making mortgage insurance available: HUD’s Section 203(h) program provides FHA insurance to disaster victims whose homes were destroyed or damaged to such an extent that reconstruction or replacement is necessary. For those that are facing the daunting task of rebuilding or buying another home, Section 203(h) allows eligible borrowers to receive 100 percent financing, including closing costs.
- Making insurance available for both mortgages and home rehabilitation: HUD’s Section 203(k) loan program enables those who have lost their homes to finance the purchase or refinance of a house along with its repair through a single mortgage. It also allows homeowners who have damaged houses to finance the rehabilitation of their existing single-family home. For a list of HUD-approved lenders in your area, use our online search tool.
- Many local entities have enacted foreclosure and eviction moratoriums, or extended previous ones. Check with your city or county, or schedule a no-cost appointment with our HomeOwnership specialists if you are having trouble paying your mortgage.
Texas Mutual Aid
You may view the Texas Mutual Aid Directory here, with a list of organizations and resources by location.
Where to get supplies
- North Texas Mutual Aid
- Local news organization KAGS has created a thorough list of sites to get emergency food and water. See the list here. This site was last updated on Sunday 2/21, so double check to make sure sites are still actively operating and call first if you can.
- The City of Dallas has a list of water distribution sites as of February 22.
- Dallas Builders has a list of contractors by service type to help you find a qualified professional to do emergency repair work.
- The Dallas Builders website also has crucial information about how to protect yourself and how to choose a contractor.
Culture Map has compiled an extensive list of local groups to donate to. See the list here.
Where to get supplies
- Emergency food distribution through the City of Austin
- Findhelp.org has a list of local providers if you put in your zip code
- AISD to serve free curbside meals
- Emergency water distribution (scroll down for locations list)
- Another list of water distribution sites with additional sites, transportation information, and YMCA shower locations list. Last updated Feb 21.
- Austin Mutual Aid Facebook page
See the City of Austin web page with information about emergency repairs. Note that you can begin your repairs right away and do not need to wait for a permit. Some repair types may require a retroactive permit.
- Downtown Austin Alliance page: updated frequently. Lists service type, contact info, and scheduling availability.
- Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber members providing service and repair
- Greater Austin Asian Chamber members providing service and repair
Thanks to the Austin Young Chamber for compiling this list. It by no means complete to reflect all of the organizations doing work in our community right now, but provides some great places to start if you’d like to make a donation to help Texans. Many of the organizations listed also have volunteer options on their websites.
- American Red Cross - Donate Here
- Black Leaders Collective - Donate Here
- Good Work Austin - Donate Here
- Community Resilience Trust - Donate Here
- Austin Area Urban League #LoveThyNeighbor Campaign - Donate Here
- Survive2Thrive Foundation - Donate Here
Info for Surrounding Cities
The City of Austin has compiled a list of services and resources in surrounding municipalities. Click here to view.
Outside of Austin & Dallas
For Texans outside of the Austin and Dallas metro areas, we encourage you to connect with your local NeighborWorks organization. You can look up your local group here or visit the NeighborWorks Alliance of Texas Facebook page here.
You may also search the Texas Mutual Aid directory.
It’s important to verify links and make sure you are giving your information to the right people. Do not trust anyone who offers financial help and then asks for money or personal information.
- DHS, FEMA, HHS and CDC staff never charge for disaster assistance.
- Federal and local disaster workers do not solicit or accept money.
- Beware of visits, calls or emails from people claiming to be from FEMA asking for your Social Security number, bank account or other sensitive information. Giving out this type of information can lead to identify theft.
- The Texas Department of Insurance is warning people to be aware of potential contracting scams as they begin making repairs. They are operating a help line to prevent contractor scams: 800-252-3439.
Some local energy providers are reporting that scammers are trying to take advantage of their customers in the aftermath of the winter storm. The scammers are telling customers they will be disconnected within 30-60 minutes if immediate payment is not made. The Texas Public Utilities Commission plans to issue a moratorium on power disconnections for nonpayment, so any threat of disconnection is likely to be a scam.
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