When a disaster is large enough to receive attention from national media, it usually means people come out of the woodwork to help. This was the case for the Texas floods as well. State and local governments, emergency management departments, FEMA, Red Cross, and a plethora of other organizations came out in droves to offer resources and financial assistance that made a tremendous impact to many Texans who were affected. But is that enough?
FEMA does a good job of engaging local governments and volunteer agencies in the disaster so that all possible resources are made available to flood survivors. Disaster Recovery Centers are set up to act as a central clearinghouse where disaster survivors can meet one on one with organizations offering assistance. However, keep in mind that the goal of both FEMA and most disaster response agencies is to meet the immediate needs, disperse the resources, and work themselves out of a job.
What most people don’t know about FEMA, is that while it is the primary government agency that responds to disasters, the scale of the disaster has to be significant enough to warrant their involvement. FEMA assesses the damage and if the costs meet a certain threshold, then the President will declare a disaster in the state, making all sorts of federal funding available. The smaller scale floods and one off house fires are no less tragic or expensive to recover from, but those people will never see financial assistance from FEMA.
While the financial assistance from FEMA can be helpful, because it is taxpayer dollars, there are certain requirements that have to be met in order to qualify for assistance. For example, for the Texas floods, the most grant money FEMA will provide a homeowner is $32,400. If the homeowner has a flood insurance policy, then only limited funding is available from FEMA, as the insurance policy is expected to cover the damage. In Texas, only 28% of the affected homes had flood insurance. I could devote an entire blog to the shortcomings of insurance policies, so it’s worth noting that flood insurance isn’t fail-safe either.
While government agencies, local communities and volunteer organizations do what they can to provide immediate assistance, you will always hear stories of people who are still fighting insurance companies and appealing decisions months and years after a disaster. There isn’t enough funding in the world to make people whole after a disaster. It’s a tough thing to really grasp, especially if you are directly affected. And my hope is that everyone thinks about the financial resources required to recover next time a disaster hits… and consider donating to the effort.