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Hey, Texplainer: How much aid has the federal government sent Texas for Hurricane Harvey recovery, and how is the Federal Emergency Management Agency distributing that money?

It’s been several weeks since Harvey slammed the Texas Coast and left Houston — the nation's fourth-largest city — grappling with unprecedented flooding. State officials put the latest death toll at 82, though it may take weeks to determine the exact number of fatalities.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott requested money from the federal government, which has sent more than $1 billion since the federal disaster declaration issued by President Donald Trump on Aug. 25, according to Melaney Rodriguez, a member of Americorps-FEMA Corps, a partnership between The Corporation for National and Community Service and FEMA that helps with disaster preparedness, response and recovery. 

FEMA has given the state $364.2 million in individual assistance (funding for individuals and households affected by Harvey) and $181 million for public assistance (money given to cities, counties and municipalities).

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Several federal officials have said there’s no telling how long they’ll be in the state offering aid or how much money Texas will need for Harvey relief efforts. Abbott has predicted that Texas will need more than $180 billion in federal aid — $60 billion more than what was needed after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“We’re going to be here as long as we’re needed,” said Deanna Frazier, a FEMA spokeswoman. “Right now, we have 5,400 FEMA workers here in Texas helping to get money to the people of Houston and the cities, counties and municipalities to help recover from Harvey.”

Here’s a breakdown of how FEMA money is allocated:

Individual assistance for Harvey survivors

As of Friday afternoon, 743,676 people had applied for FEMA assistance post-Harvey. Thus far, 288,084 have been approved, a total that's expected to increase.

When someone registers for FEMA assistance,  they have to meet certain eligibility criteria, such as being from one of the counties in Abbott's disaster declaration for Harvey.

The immediate assistance Harvey survivors can apply for through FEMA includes:

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  • Housing and rental assistance to help people pay rent at another location while they’re displaced
  • Other Needs Assistance, which includes the agency’s Transitional Shelter Assistance that gives housing vouchers so evacuees can temporarily stay at hotels across the state, or its Critical Needs Assistance program, which provides $500 grants for items such as food, water and diapers

Public assistance for cities hit by Harvey

The second way FEMA aid is dispersed is through its public assistance program to help cities, counties and municipalities that may need help rebuilding infrastructure such as bridges, pump stations and roads after Harvey.

As of Thursday, $181 million has been dedicated to Texas, Frazier said.

The money can be used to pay for debris removal, she said, adding, “All of the efforts that cities, counties and municipalities put into safety and life saving measures are also included in that amount.”

Any emergency protective measures that cities, counties and municipalities took prior to Harvey’s landfall — such as building levees to stop floodwaters — is repaid by FEMA in full. Local entities can also receive federal reimbursement for up to 90 percent of any disaster-related costs incurred during and after the storm — through a separate program.

Usually, FEMA’s cost-share is 75 percent, but the amount was increased to 90 percent because of the catastrophic nature of the storm. Local cities and counties are responsible for paying the remaining 10 percent.

Since each project has to be completed before the city, county or municipality can apply for reimbursement, some may not see that money for several months.

The bottom line: Those eligible for individual assistance through FEMA — whether for grant money or housing assistance — will get aid immediately. Any emergency protective measures that cities, counties and municipalities took prior to Harvey’s landfall is repaid by FEMA in full. But the roughly $1 billion committed for Harvey relief thus far is just a small fraction of the expected need on the Gulf Coast.

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