HOUSTON (FOX26) - The panelists this week include Bob Price - associate editor for Breitbart Texas, Adrian Garcia - former Harris County Sheriff, Marcus Davis, radio host of "Sunday Morning Live", Bill King - columnist, businessman and former Kemah mayor, and Republican strategist Jessica Colon join host Greg Groogan for a discussion about the Harvey recovery money. Is it getting to the people who need it and is it getting to them in a timely manner?
HOUSTON (AP) - Thousands of Houston-area residents still recovering from financial hardships caused by flooding from Harvey nearly six weeks ago lined up outside the city's convention center on Friday to meet the application deadline for state disaster food relief benefits.
Residents like Fayne Manuel who waited for hours in a line that snaked around the convention center and under a highway said the assistance will help them feed their families as they continue making up for lost wages and unexpected expenses due to Harvey.
"I don't have the resources to go and just do full on grocery shopping because once Harvey went over, I still had to pay so many things to try to catch up and replace and to get back to anywhere near normal," said Manuel, 43, a medical supply delivery driver who didn't work for two weeks and whose home was flooded after Harvey inundated the Houston-area with days of rainfall in late August. "This right here will help suffice what I lost."
Like Manuel, many who stood in line brought foldable chairs, umbrellas and water bottles as they waited to apply for benefits from the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or D-SNAP, at the George R. Brown Convention Center, which during Harvey was used as a shelter that housed up to 10,000 people.
D-SNAP is part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the federal nutrition program formerly known as food stamps, that lets individuals buy food at grocery stores and other locations. D-SNAP provides short-term benefits for eligible families recovering from a natural disaster. Eligibility is based on household size and meeting income guidelines. Applicants must also be from a county that has been declared a federal disaster area.
More than 260,000 individuals in Harris County, where Houston is located, have applied for the benefits.
Wayne Salter, associate commissioner of Texas Health and Human Services, said D-SNAP will help people who might not have applied for such benefits before, but after Harvey now need some help because they "had to divert the amount they would have spent for food to repair the roof or meet insurance deductibles."
The average amount a household of four will get under the program is $1,298. The amount a household gets is a one-time award. Individuals who receive SNAP benefits and who are in a county declared a disaster area got an increase in their benefits due to Harvey.
Normally, the state spends about five days taking such applications after a natural disaster but because of Houston's size, officials have spent 15 days accepting applications in Harris County, Salter said. Houston is the nation's fourth-largest city.
Friday was the last day to apply for D-SNAP in Harris County. Most of the 39 counties declared federal disaster areas after Harvey have closed their application periods.
The application deadline was extended by a day in Harris County due to longer than expected lines at many of the locations, including some community centers, which had been accepting applications through Thursday.
Salter said officials had sufficient staff at these locations but some of the long lines were due to the logistics of the centers.
"We prepared for the masses. But always, you don't know what you are going to have until you show up and you open the doors," Salter said.
Elizabeth Johnson, 37, who works at Home Depot, said the benefits will be "a huge help" and that they are an important part of helping families like hers who were flooded recover from Harvey.
"Don't be afraid to ask ... accept the help," she said.
Volunteers petering out with months of Harvey recovery ahead (Greg Groogan)
More than a month has passed since the Harvey driven floods and thousands of good folks are still reeling and nowhere near returning to homes wrecked by water and infected with mold.
"You see your personal things destroyed and slime and stink and muck and snakes in the house and rats from places God knows where. It's overwhelming. It's very overwhelming," said Ida Colston, whose house near Wayside was flooded.
This week a sweet dose of relief came to Ida's door in the form of volunteers from both here in Houston and across the country. In no time they were ripping out the ruined, clearing out the muck.
"For them to come out and volunteer, free of charge, that's a miracle to me," said Colston.
Call it compassion fueled rescue that's at risk of running out of steam. After an initial onslaught of neighborly outreach, the number of volunteers willing to roll-up their sleeves and offer their sweat has fallen dramatically.
"Will those needing help have a semblance of normal from before the storm? With the volunteers petering off, they won't," said Cameron Waldner who leads Volunteer Houston.
Waldner tells those tempted to remain on the sidelines that the collective need is critical and will remain so for months and even years to come.
"Be that someone. Let's be someone who gets out and serves, not that just thinks about serving," urges Waldner.
The urgency is genuine and justified because the longer flooded homes sit without "crisis clean-up" the less likely they'll ever be restored to livability.
Volunteer Patrick Leslie says a surplus or shortage of helping of hands could prove the difference maker.
"Nobody at the end of the day wants to be able to say, I did nothing to help anybody that was impacted by Harvey," said Leslie who works with Disaster Aid USA.
"Now we are saying it's not even a marathon, it's a triathlon. It's a full iron man triathlon," added Waldner.
Volunteer Houston has opened a volunteer reception center at 4900 Providence.
For information on how you and your group can get involved check out http://volunteerhouston.org/