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How to apply for FEMA assistance

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Volunteer Kaede Polkinghorne, center, helps a team of volunteers prepare masks at Kelly Garden at a supply distribution event last week in Houston. Texans in certain counties whose property was damaged by this month’s deadly winter storm can apply for federal assistance for things not covered by insurance. Credit: May-Ying Lam for The Texas Tribune
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Texas Border Business

The Texas Tribune

Texans in more than 100 counties can begin applying for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help them recover from last week’s massive winter storm. The number of counties whose residents qualify for such aid could grow “as more work is done to evaluate need,” said the White House press secretary. The aid comes after Texas sustained between $45 and $50 billion in damage and economic loss from the storm. 

Texans interested in receiving disaster assistance must apply through disasterassistance.gov. Residents without internet access can call FEMA toll-free at 1-800-621-3362 to apply for assistance or check application status. People who are deaf, hard of hearing or who use a Text Telephone can call 800-462-7585. For the full list of counties included in the major disaster declaration and how to apply for federal help, read the guide by the Tribune’s Bryan Mena. 

Missed opportunities: The state was warned multiple times that its electrical infrastructure needed upgrading to survive extreme weather. 

Along with ProPublica, we detail here the opportunities the state had to learn from previous disasters to upgrade its electrical grid. After a winter storm in 2011, a federal report said, among other things, that power companies and natural gas producers hadn’t properly readied their facilities for cold weather, including failing to install extra insulation, wind breaks and heaters.

Another federal report released three years later made similar recommendations with few results.

Texas lawmakers have failed to pass measures over the past two decades that would have required the operator of the state’s main power grid to ensure adequate reserves to shield against blackouts, provided better representation for residential and small commercial consumers on the board that oversees that agency and allowed the state’s top emergency-planning agency to make sure power plants were adequately “hardened” against disaster.

So what happened? Energy companies got their way. Experts made recommendations, and then energy companies argued they aren’t necessary. And they won. 

Experts and consumer advocates say this is an example of the industry’s outsize influence over the regulatory bodies that oversee them.

“Too often, power companies get exactly what they want out of the [Public Utility Commission of Texas],” said Tim Morstad, associate director of AARP Texas. “Even well-intentioned PUC staff are outgunned by armies of power company lawyers and their experts. The sad truth is that if power companies object to something, in this case simply providing information about the durability of certain equipment, they are extremely likely to get what they want.”

Read our full investigative report here.

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