AUSTIN, Texas -- "How can I spend the money?" That question is being asked by many Texas wildfire survivors who have received recovery grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
More than 80 percent of the nearly $12.6 million in grants FEMA has provided since the wildfires have been aimed at getting survivors into permanent safe, sanitary and functional housing — in the best way they see fit. Instead of using a grant to repair or rebuild a damaged home, for example, recipients may apply the funds toward the purchase of alternate housing.
“In the information packet we send to eligible survivors, FEMA provides guidelines on how to use the money,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Kevin L. Hannes. “However, we want to empower Texans to take charge of their recovery by providing options.”
FEMA’s Individual and Household Program includes grants for temporary housing, home repair or replacement, and other disaster-related needs.
Temporary housing grants allow homeowners and renters to lease a dwelling for a limited period of time when the disaster has made their home uninhabitable. Survivors can choose to rent an apartment or a home. In Bastrop and other wildfire-damaged Texas counties with a shortage of rental properties, FEMA has provided temporary housing units while survivors work on a permanent housing solution.
Survivors receiving temporary housing grants will successfully manage the money when they:
- Use it for rent and not for home repairs, personal property or other items.
- Save receipts, as these will be required if a survivor wishes to request additional rental assistance.
Housing repair or replacement grants help eligible homeowners get back into a safe, sanitary and functional home. The funds are not intended to bring a home to its predisaster condition. A grant can be used to help purchase a new home, to purchase materials or to hire contractors or skilled trades workers to complete essential repairs in such areas as:
- The foundation, outside walls or roof
- Windows, doors, floors, walls, ceilings and cabinetry
- Septic or sewage system
- Well or other water system
- Heating, ventilating and air conditioning system
- Utilities — electrical, plumbing, and gas systems
- Blocking, leveling, and anchoring a mobile home and reconnecting or resetting its sewer, water, electrical, fuel lines and tanks
Other Needs Assistance grants are given to eligible homeowners and renters for a wide variety of losses, including self-employed workers’ lost tools or protective gear, students’ damaged educational materials, household items, furniture, appliances, fuel to heat a home, vehicle damage, clean-up tools such as a wet/dry vacuum or air purifiers, moving and storage expenses or medical and dental expenses caused by the disaster, including lost medications or medical equipment.
Survivors can preserve peace of mind by spending the money on disaster recovery, keeping good records of their spending and saving receipts for three years. If specific receipts are missing, a credit card statement or other evidence can show the grant money was spent on wildfire recovery. As with many other federal programs, the government audits a percentage of grants to assure the money was spent as intended.
Survivors who have any doubts about how to spend a FEMA grant may call the FEMA Helpline at 1-800-621-3362 or TTY 1-800-462-7585. Those who use 711-Relay or Video Relay Services can call 1-800-621-3362. Recovery assistants are available from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.
The same numbers can be used to register for FEMA assistance or check the status of a registration. Texans can also register by clicking www.disasterassistance.gov, or