Due to the historic nature of the 2017 disaster season, FEMA and other aid agencies experienced an unprecedented backlog. Nine months after Harvey, low- to middle-income neighborhoods in Jasper and Newton Counties, Texas, find recovery efforts have been slow. Per the US Census Bureau, both counties continue to decrease in population and those living in poverty exceed the state percentage level. Jasper-Newton Long Term Recovery Group serves vulnerable populations. Due to back-to-back, catastrophic, 100-year floods that occurred within 18 months, many lost their jobs, homes, businesses, and precious belongings. Churches were flooded. Some lost loved ones. Some families have not had running water for over two years. They have needed to purchase bottled water for cooking and cleaning. Others feel they were scammed by agencies that said they would help, and some moved from the area because they had lost everything, including hope. The atmosphere is one of despair. Our Case Managers live in the area and know the people who desperately need assistance to live in habitable homes and return to normalcy. We provide oversight, from Case Management to Construction, Volunteers, Donations and Spiritual Soul Care.
As of March 30, 2018, 80 homes have been repaired to a habitable state through small grants and countless volunteer hours. (Compare that with the state data level of 214 homes as of May 4 through PREPS and DALHR.) We are efficient and partnered with volunteer highly-skilled crew leads. All volunteers sign a Somebody Cares America Release of Liability. JN-LTRG had 7 teams from out of state help with those rebuilds, and as word continues to spread that real help is happening, more residents continue to contact us. We have 564 cases documented, but that number will grow through our next three open intake sessions in Evadale, Deweyville and Bon Wier.
50 cases have been prioritized for our team for 2018-19, and 30 more were prioritized for Family Endeavors, which is providing 21 full-time Case Managers (Texas HHS/FEMA). There are three homes that can’t be fixed and some have received notice they will lose their FEMA trailers by October, so we will assist homeowners to find suitable options. Other homeowners live with mold, termites, muddled out homes waiting for sheet rock, and other horrible conditions. We will ensure homes are owner-occupied, and that repairs do not occur in buyout or flood zones, are free of delinquent property taxes and have a clear title. The work has really just started. The average cost per home has been $7,220, but some require new wells, septic system repair, or leveling or roof contractors, increasing the cost.
Newton County is one of the poorest counties in Texas with most school children on the free lunch program. Any setback is devastating to these families. There are extremely limited employment avenues besides teaching school and county government that bring revenue to these homes. The disruption from the flood for most was catastrophic. FEMA Administrator Brock Long said, “Recovery funding comes from 17 different federal government agencies and it's too difficult to understand what you’re entitled to and how to put it to work.” Low-income individuals and families need help applying for or appealing FEMA aid decisions. In Texas, half of the 741,000 applicants were rejected for FEMA aid. Those in Jasper and Newton Counties who did receive aid found the amounts shockingly low, such as $22, when they had lost everything. They are poor, so they don't have savings to make repairs not covered by FEMA. Those whose claims are rejected generally do not understand which of the three types occurred, do not have money to hire lawyers for their appeals, and may have a language barrier. It is a discouraging process. Many live in uninhabitable homes with mold, termites, no sheet rock on walls, etc. Of the 564 current cases, at least 3 homes need to be demolished. 20 families no longer have running water and need to purchase bottled water for all their needs, adding a huge expense to already poor families. We need to repair 2 wells to serve 10 families and repair septic systems for another 10 families. We need to continue demolition and rebuild efforts as resources and funding are available. Many used SBA loans after the March 2016 flood and can't afford another loan payment for Harvey recovery. Some homeowners who had lived here 70+ years had never been flooded and did not have flood insurance. In addition to home repairs, the back-to-back floods have made Spiritual Soul Care a top priority for our teams.