AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the community calls for accountability, many people are also calling for help.
Dozens have reached out to KXAN asking if the disaster declaration will include direct relief for families, and hundreds have written in about their struggles through the power outages.
“We’re used to taking care of ourselves,” said Paul Hunt of northeast Austin. “And it was really difficult because we couldn’t take care of ourselves.”
The lights are back on at the Hunt residence, but the family had to throw a whole fridge of food out – a bulk order they got delivered ahead of Paul’s wife Sheryl’s scheduled eye surgery. They’re both visually impaired.
Travis County Judge Andy Brown’s Office said it’s still working out the details of declaration funding. During Commissioners Court Tuesday, Judge Brown brought the question of whether people would be eligible for direct food compensation through FEMA and the disaster declaration to Chief Emergency Management Coordinator Eric Carter.
“I don’t believe there’s a box for food loss,” Carter said, adding that the county has provided assistance through food distributions. Carter suggested the possibility of additional food distributions as well.
We asked the City about this kind of reimbursement as well. A spokesperson said if “Individual Assistance” is included and approved in a disaster declaration, “some documented costs pertaining to lodging (i.e. hotel expenses) can be reimbursed through FEMA if the individual is eligible for Individual Assistance.”
We asked about the likelihood of “Individual Assistance” being included and are waiting to hear back.
During a news conference about the disaster declaration Friday, Mayor Kirk Watson said “One other example as I understand it can be used for… if somebody has some personal expenses meaning to their household as a result of needing to reconnect or hire an electrician some of that money can go towards those things as well.”
Austin Energy General Manager Jackie Sargent addressed the idea of money going to the utility’s customers as well, similar to the mayor’s sentiments.
“We would like to see some funding go to assisting our customers. We know that – and if you’ve driven around the community – that customers’ houses have been impacted,” she said in a press conference Monday.
Other resources available
According to the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI), some homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies can pay up to $500 for food you had to throw out due to the power outage. TDI recommends taking photos and keeping a list of food that went bad and calling your insurance company.
TDI also states your insurance policies may cover damage to your home or car due to falling trees, but will typically not cover costs for tree removal for trees and limbs that just fall in your yard. Photos of the damage can help your case.
You can also call the TDI helpline at (800) 252-3439.
Ruth Resendez of Central Austin said her renters’ insurance policy covered $2,000 of hotel costs when she, her husband and her daughter were displaced from their apartment complex. In this family’s case, a pipe burst in their building making their unit uninhabitable.
Several information and resource centers opened Tuesday throughout Austin and Travis County, where “staff will be available at these centers to answer community members’ questions and provide a variety of complimentary resources, such as charging centers, debris and damage information, mental health support, hot food, laundry facilities, showers, and more,” according to a City news release.
You can find the schedule and locations for the storm-recovery resource centers here.
Property owners may be eligible for temporary relief on their property taxes, according to the Travis Central Appraisal District (TCAD).
You’re only eligible if there’s damage to the building on your property. Landscaping or tree damage does not apply. If your damages exceed 15% of your property’s improvement value, you may be able to receive a tax exemption.
The deadline to apply for an exemption related to this storm is May 22. Visit TCAD’s website for more information on how to calculate your damages and see if you qualify.