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How much has been raised for Harvey relief — and how's it being spent?

Debris from Harvey flooding is removed from a Port Arthur neighborhood on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. (Photo by Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune)

by Morgan Smith | The Texas Tribune

After Hurricane Harvey dumped up to 50 inches of rain on parts of southeast Texas and caused historic flooding, an outpouring of financial support and charitable contributions has flowed to Harvey-related causes.

Almost a month and a half later, floodwaters have receded, leaving Texans in 39 counties to clean up rotting debris and destroyed homes. An estimated 1,100 people remained in eight different emergency shelters around the state earlier this week, and 62,304 Texas residents are still living in FEMA-paid hotel rooms.

Two weeks after the category 4 storm made landfall, Congress approved a $15 billion federal aid package. And donors have given hundreds of millions more to the Red Cross and a host of Harvey relief funds: one started by Houston Texans star JJ Watt has pulled in $27 million, while the Rebuild Texas Fund, spearheaded by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, has raised $70.7 million.

“We are in that period where everyone is saying nice things and patting everyone on the back saying we understand your pain, we understand your needs, and sooner or later that’s going to get back to dollars and how those are spent,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said at a recent legislative appropriations meeting.

So how exactly is that money being used? Here’s an overview of what’s been spent at the state and federal level — and what hasn’t.

Federal Funding: $15 billion

While lawmakers are expected to approve more money for disaster relief — Texas leaders on Thursday requested another $18.7 billion — the state won’t get the full $15 billion because the money will be divided among the states and territories hit by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

About half of the money has gone to FEMA, which generally helps disaster victims take care of more short-term needs like food, water, medical care and temporary housing.

So far the agency has spent $886.6 million on assistance for Texans affected by Harvey, including $683.2 million on housing-related expenses — help paying rent, essential home repairs and some personal property replacement — and $203.4 million on “other needs assistance” that includes hotel rooms and $500 stipends for displaced people.

The agency has also approved an additional $327.8 million to local governments that have requested help rebuilding infrastructure like roads, bridges and levies.

The other half of the federal relief money flows through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help finance long-term rebuilding. It's intended to fill in the gaps after individuals or government agencies have exhausted all other sources of relief.

“We are the long-haul type responding agency, we aren’t the first responder,” said Brian Sullivan, a spokesman for the department.

None of the $7.4 billion the department has received from Congress has arrived in Texas yet, and it will be a while until it does because of a complicated process of assessing needs and developing a spending plan that must be approved by multiple layers of government.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush told state lawmakers Monday that it could take from seven to 32 months for the funds to work their way through that process.

The Small Business Administration’s disaster relief loan program, available for businesses and individuals, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food assistance program also provide aid during disasters. So far, the SBA has approved $784 million in low-interest loans in Texas, and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission has administered more than $209 million in USDA food assistance.

State of Texas: $103 million

Gov. Greg Abbott has awarded $103 million from the state disaster fund to pay for Harvey-related expenses, and just under half of that went to fund the Houston’s recovery efforts.

Another $43 million went toward deploying the National Guard during the storm, and the remaining $10 million went to the Department of Public Safety for costs incurred by the Texas Emergency Management Division.

Some local officials, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, have called on Abbott to tap the state’s $10 billion Rainy Day Fund to help with rebuilding and cleanup expenses, but the governor has said if that happens, it won’t be until the 2019 legislative session.

Red Cross: $300 million

Central Texas chapter spokesman Geof Sloan said the nonprofit, which partners with local governments to run shelters and provide disaster assistance, has given $148 million in direct financial aid in the form of $400 stipends to more than 370,000 Texas households as of Sept. 28. That number will increase as the Red Cross continues accepting applications for the stipends via its website through Oct. 10.

Sloan said the organization has deployed more than 7,300 workers to support efforts in Texas. Its emergency shelters, he said, have served more than 3.7 million meals and snacks and provided more than 421,000 overnight stays since Harvey hit. Sloan said that a cost breakdown for these services was not currently available.

A recent ProPublica investigation called the Red Cross’s role in Harvey disaster relief into question and uncovered records of local officials in several counties complaining that the organization did not provide promised support or help.

Rebuild Texas Fund: $70.7 million

A spokeswoman said the organization would be announcing the first round of recipients next week.

JJ Watt Foundation’s Harvey Relief Fund: $27 million

The Houston Texans player smashed an initial fundraising goal of $200,000. The foundation did not respond to a media inquiry asking how much of the money has been spent.

This story was produced in partnership with the Ravitch Fiscal Reporting Program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

Disclosure: The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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