Half Of Hurricane Harvey Victims Say FEMA Application Was Denied Or Is Still Pending

Months after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, wreaking havoc on swathes of the state, almost half of affected residents say they’re still “not getting the help” they need, according to a new survey.

Conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Episcopal Health Foundation between Oct. 17 and Nov. 20, the survey found that many Harvey victims across 24 Texas counties were still struggling with financial woes and health problems in the aftermath of the disaster. Almost 30 percent of impacted residents, for instance, said they’d fallen behind in paying their rent or mortgage after Harvey. One in four respondents said they were having problems paying for food.

“The conventional wisdom that Texans hit by Hurricane Harvey have recovered is wrong,” said Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, in a statement. “The people in the hardest-hit areas are telling us that they still face major hurdles before their lives return to normal.”

Of the more than 1,600 respondents to the survey, two-thirds said they’d personally suffered property damage or income loss because of Harvey. One in 9 of those affected said they were still displaced from their homes at the time of the survey. One in 6 said someone in their home had a health condition that was new or worse as a result of Harvey ― and almost 20 percent said their mental health had suffered because of the disaster. 

Forty-four percent of those impacted said they’d applied for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or the Small Business Administration. Only 26 percent of applicants, however, said their applications had been approved.

Thirty-three percent said they’d been denied, while 19 percent said their applications were still pending. The remainder said they weren’t sure of their application’s status.

Of those whose applications were denied, four in 10 said they weren’t given a reason, while 60 percent said they “were not given instructions on how to revise their applications.” 

Jackie Chandler, a FEMA spokeswoman, told The Washington Post on Monday that people whose applications are denied are always given “specific reasons” explaining the decision.

“The reason is in their letter. Everybody should know why they are ineligible,” she said, adding that applicants can appeal the decision.

According to the office of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, almost 900,000 individual assistance applications have been submitted to FEMA since Harvey. As of Nov. 8, more than $7 billion in federal funds have been provided to impacted Texans, the office said.

Based on the survey, white and Hispanic residents who applied for FEMA assistance were more likely than blacks to say their application was approved. Those with higher incomes also reported a higher rate of approval.

This unevenness in demographics was reflected elsewhere in the survey, which showed how Harvey “disproportionately affected black and Hispanic residents, low-income residents and people living in both the ‘Golden Triangle’ area, which includes Beaumont, Orange, and Port Arthur, and in the ‘Coastal’ area including Rockport and Corpus Christi,” according to a summary of the survey’s findings.

Overall, 45 percent of affected residents said they were “not getting the help” they needed to recover from Harvey. That number was higher among black residents (64 percent). Forty-four percent of Hispanics and 37 percent of whites said the same.

“People really expected to be returning to normalcy and I think what they’re finding is that they can’t ― that a significant percentage cannot. And those who are lower income and those who are African-American or Hispanic are having a worse time than others,” said Episcopal Health Foundation CEO Elena Marks in a statement.  

The survey was conducted using cellphones and landlines among 1,635 randomly selected adults in 24 Texas counties impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Its margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points. See the full survey report here.

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