“The state owes me a water heater.” That’s how Walsh Ranch resident Rian Brassell sees it.
After he lost power to his home during the deadly winter storm in 2021 that plunged Texas into a deep freeze, his brand new tankless water heater was destroyed.
Brassell had spent just about 40 days in his new town home before the storm – an Arctic blast named Uri – hit Texas during the second week of February. With ice and snow covering the Dallas-Fort Worth region, temperatures dropped to 5 degrees on Feb. 15.
At least 246 people died statewide as millions of Texans were left without electricity or water.
Brassell fared better than most of his west Fort Worth neighbors whose houses were flooded because of burst pipes, but damage inflicted on his home still cost him about $2,500.
The bills came right after the Brassells purchased new furniture for their home. The family’s budget was essentially tapped out.
When he called the state to see if he could get reimbursed for the damage, he was told to file a homeowners insurance claim. He decided against it, he said, because he didn’t want his premium to go up for something that wasn’t his fault. Assistance from FEMA wasn’t an option either. He reasoned that money should go to people who can’t afford insurance.
“I just bit the bullet,” Brassell said.
Now, two years later, the city is preparing to distribute funds to residents who were impacted by the 2021 storm, as well as one in 2020. The funds are intended to help those who never got the government relief they needed. Fort Worth residents who sustained damage to their property from the storms could soon access additional recovery funds, about $27 million in total.
City council will vote on finalizing plans to submit the city’s action plan to use the funds.
$11 billion paid out in insurance claims for 2021 storm
The funding is determined by insurance claims and the applications for assistance Fort Worth residents submitted to FEMA in the aftermath of the 2021 storm. Insurers reported that Texans made 510,772 insurance claims in the aftermath of the storm. Insurers paid out about $11 billion for commercial, residential and automobile damage, according to the Texas Department of Insurance.
In total, about 40% of claims made to insurance companies were closed without payment, as of March 2022.
More than 5,600 Tarrant County households received FEMA assistance for the 2021 storm. The agency approved more than $18 million in housing assistance, including money for basic home repairs for uninsured or underinsured residents, a spokesperson for FEMA said in a statement.
The $27 million from Fort Worth is for insured and uninsured residents who may have received partially recovery funds from insurers and FEMA or, no funds at all — like Brassell.
“The funding we received is to meet unmet needs,” said Sharon Burkley, community development planning manager with the Neighborhood Services Department. “That may be a person who applied for a particular amount and received a lesser amount… as well as those who may not have been aware or completed the process to apply to FEMA.”
The money can also be used to reimburse residents who paid out of pocket for repairs. It can also be used to pay for mitigation efforts to prevent future damage from a similar disaster.
“Because I don’t trust the state not to do this again, I bought a generator,” Brassell said. “He (the governor) owes me more than the water heater. Now I have to buy stuff to prepare for this again.”
The money is distributed through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. The city received the money in March, 2022. For 11 months, the city gathered data and prepared to present a plan to the department showing how the city will distribute the money.
Submitting the plan is the final step to begin distributing the money to residents, said Sharon Burkley, community development planning manager with Fort Worth’s Neighborhood Services Department.
“Fort Worth is moving as quickly and as diligently as we can to make sure that we get assistance to our residents,” Burkley said.
After the city’s plan goes through the final approval process, residents will be able to apply for the funds through an online portal. Burkley expects the portal to be available in early summer.
How Fort Worth received federal assistance
The funds, which come from the agency’s community development block grants for disaster recovery, are approved by Congress on an emergency basis.
“The funds are appropriated to address unmet needs for long term recovery after major disasters, primarily in the areas of housing, economic revitalization, restoration of infrastructure, and mitigation,” said Ty Petty, Public Affairs Officer for the department’s Fort Worth regional office.
The funds are distributed to the most distressed areas in the aftermath of a disaster. The money is purposely issued after FEMA and insurance money is already paid out to address any unmet needs, Petty said.
All the funds are required to be used to address disaster-related impacts from the winter storms. About 70% of the funds must be used for low- and moderate-income people.
Brassell, who is retired military and a former firefighter, made sure to look out for his neighborhood in the midst of the winter storm. He went door to door advising people to turn off their water if they wanted to avoid burst pipes.
“Hopefully this is our forever home,” Brassell said. “I wanted to help my new neighbors, they’re people I got to live with for the rest of my life.”
Brassell said he’ll consider applying for the funds himself, but his first priority is getting his neighborhood together to show them how to apply for the funding.
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.
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