On February 11, 2021, a massive cold front caused by an Artic vortex moved towards Texas. It brought Winter Storm Uri which eventually blanketed the entire state in sub-freezing temperatures. On February 13, 2021, Governor Greg Abbott declared Texas a disaster area and requested Federal assistance from President Biden.
The President approved Governor Abbott’s request on February 14, 2021. This then activated immediate Federal assistance via Federal Emergency Management Assistance (FEMA). FEMA supplies necessary items such as emergency generators, fuel, food, water, and blankets, among other things. Not all counties have been added to the disaster declaration at this time, however; although officials recently added thirty-one additional counties to the original declaration.
Having previously gone through the post-disaster claims process, I wanted to put together a list of tips for my fellow Texans to help expedite their recovery process.
Below is a list of resources to get you started on the road to recovery:
Firstly, you are going to need everything in one place to help expedite each step. Get a folder, box, or binder to keep all your claims information, photos (take as many photos as you can), notes, and responses together. Also, I highly recommend getting a notebook to log each call you make, the person you speak with, and the dates and times.
Contact Your Insurance Providers
If the damaged property is insured, immediately contact your Insurance provider and start the claims process. Share all your photos and receipts. Some policies have time limits for filing certain types of damages so don’t delay. You can always add more to the claim but start the initial claim.
Take the TIART Survey
Register your losses using the Texas Individual Assistance Reporting Tool. This is a survey to assess emergency management in order to prioritize services based on immediate needs and damage severity. It doesn’t matter whether you have insurance, report your damages. You only need to complete one survey per address. This will also help the Governor’s office determine whether to designate more counties as affected areas and add them to the Federal declaration list.
Register with FEMA.gov
I cannot stress this enough! Whether or not you have insurance, you need to register with FEMA. There are programs to assist people and businesses that do and do not have insurance coverage for the damages suffered in a disaster, including extremely low-interest loans (not credit-based) through the SBA Disaster Loan program. The SBA has disaster loans for homeowners and businesses.
SBA Disaster Assistance Program
Once the initial disaster assessments begin, you may qualify for special programs offered through the Small Business Administration Disaster Assistance Programs. These include low-interest physical damage loans, mitigation assistance, economic injury loans, military reservist loans, and the Federal Payment Protection Program PPP Loans, if applicable.
Report Price Gouging
It is unfortunate, but it happens. People will take advantage of others during a crisis. Please save all receipts and record and report any price gouging that you see to the Texas Office of the Attorney General, Ken Paxton. It is a crime to raise prices significantly following a disaster declaration.
Request Help from State Representatives
These elected officials represent you and can help you get the information you need or assist you with issues you cannot manage alone by pointing you in the right direction. You can locate your representative by using your address and get their contact information at https://wrm.capitol.texas.gov/home.
Follow Local and Federal Emergency Management Offices on Social Media
You’ll also want to keep up with updates and notices that may affect you. Many state offices have social media accounts, so search your social networks for “Emergency Management of [your county, city or state].”
Check Emails and Reply in a Timely Manner
A prompt response to all requests for more information from your insurance adjuster or emergency management offices helps keep your claim moving forward. Remember to save all correspondences, though, they will come in handy.
Finally, be ready to tell your story often and answer questions and provide evidence and receipts. There will be a lot of paperwork, but you will get through it. If you are denied anything from anyone, be prepared to appeal. They will give you appeal instructions, so be sure to follow them. This is where contacting your state representative comes in handy. Do not give up in frustration.
Other Links to Help Recover from Winter Storms
Get Help With Insurance Complaint – Texas Department of Insurance
Texas Deceptive Trade Practices – in the Texas Business and Commerce Code https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/BC/htm/BC.17.htm
Better Business Bureau – report shady business practices and price gouging https://www.bbb.org/consumer-complaints/file-a-complaint/get-started
Federal Trade Commission – report illegal activity and price gouging during the disaster and recovery period to:
Bureau of Consumer Protection
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20580
Energy Billing Issues: If you have issues with your energy bill, you should notify Lt. Governor Dan Patrick at (512) 462-5342 or (512) 463-0001.
Help After the Storm – Mental Health Services: Texas Department of Insurance issued a video encouraging those suffering from stress and anxiety following the Winter Storms to consult their health insurance provider to find assistance in dealing with the mental fatigue and stress that can accompany disasters such as this. If you are not sure who to contact, you can also call 2-1-1.