State, agencies announce aid for storm victims
By Joe Southern
Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast near Corpus Christi on the evening of Friday, Aug. 25, as a Category 4 hurricane.
It slowly meandered to the northeast, dumping more than 50 inches of rain on the Greater Houston Area over the next several days, causing widespread flooding. Missouri City and Sienna Plantation were the hardest-hit areas of eastern Fort Bend County with tornadoes and floodwaters.
The Brazos River crested on Friday at a record height of 55.18 feet, causing additional flooding in parts of Fort Bend County. Since then, the area has been draining and displaced residents have been returning to their homes. The recovery is expected to be slow and needs will be ongoing. The following are updates provided by various state and local agencies. For the latest updates visit www.leaderprints.com and/or see the Fort Bend Star sites on Facebook and Twitter.
Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to Texas county judges providing detailed information regarding aid eligibility to areas affected by Harvey. In the letter, the governor outlined in detail the types of assistance counties can receive because of his Presidential Disaster Declaration. Also in the letter the Governor expressed his commitment to helping these communities recover, and notified them that the representatives from the Governor’s Office will join the Federal Emergency Management Agency on the ground in these areas to help with the assistance request process.
In addition to the letter the Governor included several, fact sheets that further outline FEMA grant programs and provide information on where to start in the disaster grant assistance process.
Abbott also encouraged individuals in eligible communities to register for Individual Assistance, Transitional Shelter Assistance, and Critical Needs Assistance at www.disasterassistance.gov.
Niagara Bottling donations
Throughout the past several days, Niagara Bottling has donated more than 2 million bottles of water to emergency relief partners including Feed the Children, Convoy of Hope, the Houston Food Bank and local police and fire first responders. Niagara is committed to continuing this effort to support the needs of the region. Niagara is working closely with FEMA, local retailers and its disaster relief partners to provide safe, quality drinking water to those in need.
To assist with the recovery efforts, Niagara Cares, the philanthropic division of Niagara Bottling, notified Missouri City Mayor Allen Owen that it is pledging $1 million dollars to help with disaster relief efforts in both the “Show Me” City and Seguin. Niagara will work with local government leadership to identify how to best aid the communities of Seguin and Missouri City in addition to assisting affected employees. Niagara currently has more than 500 employees in Texas and has operated in the state for more than nine years.
Social Security information
Many Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit payments were scheduled for Friday, Sept. 1. The following information covers the various delivery methods for these payments in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Payments by paper check
Hurricane Harvey’s impact on the Gulf Coast resulted in the temporary suspension of mail delivery service, as well as the closure of some postal facilities in the Houston area. The U.S. Postal Service is providing additional information on how customers displaced by Hurricane Harvey can retrieve checks they receive via the mail.
Provided here about.usps.com/news/state-releases/tx/tx.htm is a list of Post Office locations, by ZIP Code, where checks will be made available for pick-up beginning Friday, Sept. 1. People must have proper identification to receive their check.
Payments by direct deposit
Nearly all payments issued by direct deposit will arrive as scheduled. If a person’s payment is delayed, they should contact their financial institution. If the financial institution is not operating, please see the “emergency payment” information below.
Payments by Direct Express Debit Card (a Treasury Department program)
For recipients in the affected areas who receive their payment through a Direct Express card, fees will be waived, even if they have evacuated out of the area. Payments will be posted to Direct Express cards on Sept. 1.
People may contact Direct Express at 1-888-741-1115.
Emergency Payment locations
For people who cannot receive their regularly scheduled Social Security payment as a result of Hurricane Harvey, in most cases they can go to any open Social Security office and request an immediate payment. A list of offices that are currently closed, as well as additional information for the public, is available at www.socialsecurity.gov/emergency.
To find the nearest open Social Security office outside of the affected areas, call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or go to www.socialsecurity.gov/locator.
Representatives from numerous federal and state law enforcement agencies have formed a working group to investigate and prosecute illegal activity related to Hurricane Harvey.
Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez made the announcement along with other officials.
“This disaster has brought and will continue to bring unprecedented human and financial loss to our communities, and victims of this event have already suffered staggering devastation,” said Martinez. “The last thing that victims of this damage need is to be victimized again. Under the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, we bring a comprehensive law enforcement focus to combat any criminal activity arising from the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey and the rebuilding efforts underway.”
While each of these agencies has a history of working together, bringing them together into one focused group is an optimal way to address the varied threats resulting from Hurricane Harvey. The working group will involve all levels of law enforcement and includes representatives from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, NCDF, Harris County DA’s Office, Texas Attorney General’s Office, SEC, FBI, DHS-OIG, HSI, IRS-CI, USSS, FTC and the ATF.
Consumers also can report scams and other consumer issues to the FTC and get help if they think they may be a victim of identity theft (www.identitytheft.gov).
The Disaster Fraud Hotline is 1-866-720-5721 and is staffed by a live operator 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Members of the public can also email email@example.com or fax information to 225-334-4707.
In addition, the Texas Attorney General’s Office is asking Texans to please contact their Consumer Protection Division and file a complaint if they feel they have encountered price gouging or have been scammed or fall victim to a charities fraud. They can call the toll-free hotline at 800-621-0508, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or file a complaint on via the web https://texasattorneygeneral.gov/cpd/file-a-consumer-complaint.
Texas residents in counties impacted by Hurricane Harvey will not have to worry about vehicle titling and registration requirements for the next 45 days. Gov. Greg Abbott suspended certain statutes related to the enforcement of title and registration laws in the 58 counties included in the state’s disaster declaration.
“With the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey impacting so many Texans right now, the last thing people should have to worry about is an expired vehicle registration,” said TxDMV Executive Director Whitney Brewster. “This reprieve from the law will allow residents to focus on safety and recovery during this extremely difficult situation.”
Law enforcement officers around the state will not issue citations for expired registration to Texas residents from these counties through Oct. 16.
Visit TxDMV’s Hurricane Harvey Emergency Information Page for the latest updates on office closures and other changes at www.TxDMV.gov/Harvey.
Walmart, Walmart Foundation donate $20
Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have committed up to $20 million in support of relief efforts in response to the severe weather impacting the Gulf region. This includes $10 million focused on support of American Red Cross shelters and $2 million in support of the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund at the Greater Houston Community Foundation, which was announced at a press briefing with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.
To help those in need, Walmart is launching a customer campaign with the American Red Cross to assist with Hurricane Harvey relief. As part of the customer campaign, Walmart is matching customer donations two to one with cash and product donations of up to $10 million to support American Red Cross disaster relief. Walmart’s initial focus will be on mega-shelters, providing items to meet basic needs, such as water, infant formula, diapers, underwear and personal hygiene products. It will also aim to increase comfort in these shelters by providing items such as TVs, DVDs, games and stuffed animals for children and healthy snacks, such as fresh fruit.
$25 Million for TxDOT
Gov. Greg Abbott announced today that the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is receiving $25 million in federal funds to help rehabilitate the state’s transportation network after Hurricane Harvey. The Federal Highway Administration made the funds available for all counties on the Governor’s Disaster Declaration.
More than 1,500 TxDOT employees have been assessing and addressing the disaster that has affected almost 50 Texas counties. The historic flooding has downed traffic lights, damaged roadway signs and caused highway asphalt to buckle or worse, be swept away in some areas. To date, more than 530 roads remain flooded or closed. As TxDOT faces the enormous challenge to respond and address Harvey’s path of destruction, agency leaders say the federal funds will help them with everything from debris removal and traffic light replacement to bridge and road repairs.
Hurricane and flood insurance
State Sen. Borris Miles made the following statement regarding misinformation circulating about flood insurance:
“Recently, there has been much information and misinformation regarding hurricane flood insurance. HB 1774 relates to the handling of legal actions for certain insurance claims, including those arising from damage to or loss of property due to hailstorms and other forces of nature. The legislation does not change how you file a claim or how your insurer will process your claim. The legislation does not prohibit you from filing your claim after Sept. 1. This bill does not apply to claims with the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association or the National Flood Insurance Program.
“HB 1774 requires policyholders to provide notice before filing a lawsuit as well as makes changes to the requirements for inspections related to a lawsuit, recovering attorney’s fees, and statutory penalty interest. HB 1774 does reduce the penalty interest of the insurance company form 18 percent to 10 percent if the insurance company fails to pay you in a timely manner. If you file your claim on or after Sept. 1, your claim will be subject to the provisions of HB 1774. For help with insurance questions and recovery resources, visit Texas Department of Insurance’s Help After Harvey website or call my office at 512-463-0113 or 713-520-1670.”
Beware of Hurricane Harvey charity scams
Attorney General Ken Paxton encouraged Texans who want to donate to the victims of Hurricane Harvey to give both generously and carefully. Beware of scam artists who use natural disasters to take advantage of the good intentions of others.
“Texans are known for opening their hearts and wallets to others in times of need,” Attorney General Paxton said. “By doing a little research, well-meaning Texans can ensure their dollars actually go to a legitimate charity or organization providing victim and community support, rather than funding fraudulent scams set up to capitalize on a disaster.”
Paxton shared the following tips to guard against fake charities and other donation scams:
Be cautious of requests for donations by unfamiliar organizations or people, especially anyone calling and asking for donations by credit card or requesting personal information.
When donating money, consider directing your help to a recognized disaster-relief charity, such as the Dell Foundation’s collaboration with the OneStar Foundation for the Rebuild Texas Fund at www.rebuildtx.gov.
Research the charity before you donate money by using Charity Navigator at www.charitynavigator.org and the resources provided by the Office of the Texas Attorney General at https://texasattorneygeneral.gov/cpd/disaster-scams.
Don’t fall for high-pressure tactics and demands for an immediate donation. A legitimate charity welcomes background checks on their operations.
Avoid charities or fundraisers that refuse to provide detailed information about their identity, mission, costs or how your donation will be used.
If you suspect you’ve been targeted by a fraudulent charity or donation scam, file a complaint online at https://texasattorneygeneral.gov/apps/charitable-trusts-complaint-form/.