The people of East Texas are not happy with the assistance they have gotten from FEMA since Hurricane Rita devastated their cities.
Widespread confusion and inconsistency over who is entitled to grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency is inspiring Chambers County officials to tell residents affected by Hurricane Rita to appeal to statewide assistance for help.
“There’s no rhyme or reason why some are getting it and some are not,” said County Commissioner Judy Edmonds. “I think it all depends on who you get when you fill out an application.”
County Judge Jimmy Sylvia appealed to residents who had experienced problems in dealing with FEMA to contact senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, along with Congressman Ron Paul, who represents Chambers County.
“We were declared 100 percent disaster county, and I was told we would be treated just like Katrina victims and that all households in Chambers County would receive $2,000 in emergency funds,” Sylvia said in the press release. “Some have received it, others have not. I encourage those of you who have had problems with FEMA to contact your federal representatives…”
Jeanette Rhame, a resident of Hankamer, said it seemed FEMA phone representatives had been inadequately trained.
“First they said I was not under an mandatory evacuation, then it was that we have insurance so we’re not entitled to the $2,000,” she said. “But I had expenses too. I had to leave, find food to eat and a place to sleep.”
Ross Fredenburg, a FEMA public affairs officer, acknowledged that some applicants had been given incorrect information concerning the availability of financial assistance to them.
“Some people are being inappropriately told they are being denied assistance and that’s something that shouldn’t be happening,” Fredenburg said.
“I know some that have home insurance have no damage to their house and yet they receive $2,000,” Edmonds said. “I have seen others that had damage but they have been denied.”
“I got word that our people are going to be treated just like Katrina evacuees because there was a mandatory evacuation,” Sylvia added. “We’ve talked to FEMA officials and I don’t know — there’s still a lot of confusion, so we’re going up ladder to elected officials.”
Chambers County is not the only area that has expressed frustration over FEMA assistance.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, who wore a bulletproof vest while he attended meetings in Jasper, Newton, Deweyville and Buna on Monday. He plans to visit Orange, Vidor, Kountze and Woodville on Tuesday.
Brady spokeswoman Sarah Stephens said Brady had received a death threat, but wouldn’t go into specifics. She said the Texas Department of Public Safety asked Brady to wear the vest.
As Brady stepped up to the church altar, four DPS troopers lined up in front of the lectern, separating the congressman and other federal officials from the rural residents who say their needs have been neglected.
Calvin Ebner, 78, said those who were honest on aid applications have been denied $2,000 in FEMA money while those who cheated got a check. Ebner ran a Deweyville Christmas tree farm and restaurant before Rita hit.
“The problem seems to be that some of those who answered questions truthfully are not getting the $2,000,” he said, adding that a FEMA representative told him some had been denied because of information entered into a computer program that figures a formula upon which aid amounts are based. “Is there not someone who can circumvent a stupid computer program and do what is right?”