The Harvey Recovery

Harvey recovery continues

AG says 127 Texas businesses gouged

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Consumer Protection Division sent notices of violations to 127 Texas businesses accused of price gouging during the state of disaster declared for Hurricane Harvey. All of the cases involve consumer complaints against gas stations that allegedly charged $3.99 or higher for a gallon of unleaded gasoline or diesel.

“At the outset of Harvey, I made it clear that my office would not tolerate price gouging of vulnerable Texans by any individuals or businesses looking to profit from the hurricane,” Attorney General Paxton said. “We’ve given 127 alleged offenders an opportunity to resolve these issues with our office or face possible legal action for violating state law. Our investigation of other businesses into price gouging remains ongoing.”

The Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA) prohibits anyone from taking advantage of a disaster declared by the governor and selling or leasing fuel or other necessities for excessive or exorbitant prices. The law authorizes the attorney general to file price gouging lawsuits, and seek refunds of money unlawfully taken from consumers, civil penalties of up to $20,000 per violation, and court orders to prevent future violations.

During the disaster, Attorney General Paxton’s Consumer Protection Divison received approximately 5,500 price gouging complaints about businesses. Many Texans e-mailed photos and receipts as evidence. Numerous businesses receiving notices of violations are located in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

Texans who believe they have been scammed or price gouged should call the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Hotline toll-free at (800) 621-0508, e-mail consumeremergency [at] oag [dot] texas [dot] gov, or file a complaint online at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/cpd/file-a-consumer-complaint.

TxDOT begins last round of debris pick-up

TxDOT began its final round of debris pick up along state roadways in Jefferson, Orange, Hardin, Chambers, Liberty, Tyler, Jasper and Newton counties Nov. 1. Residents living along state roadways should place any debris generated by Tropical Storm Harvey along state right-of-way for pickup.

The right-of-way is the area of residential property that extends from the street to the sidewalk, ditch, utility pole or easement. Keep vegetative debris (woody burnable debris such as limbs and shrubbery) separated from construction and demolition debris, as it will be collected separately.

Clear-bagged and loose debris will be collected. Any household hazardous waste, roof shingles or tires resulting from the storm may be eligible for removal and should be separated at the curb. Pick up of hazardous materials and appliances will follow one week behind other debris collection.

Do not place debris near a water meter vault, fire hydrant or any other above-ground utility. Only debris placed on the right-of-way will be eligible for collection.

FEMA says be aware of and report fraud

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently became aware of potentially suspicious activity related to the recovery from hurricanes and the wildfires including fraudulent registrations.

Extensive review of FEMA system security logs found no indications of compromise to the system; however, FEMA and its partners are taking necessary steps to determine impacts of the fraudulent activities and to implement long-term solutions. To address these instances, FEMA is notifying survivors, by phone or mail and is instituting additional verification and controls in cases where there was suspicious activity, to ensure that only eligible applicants receive assistance.

DHS’ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) aggressively investigates allegations of disaster fraud after every federally declared disaster, and works with other law enforcement agencies to identify and prosecute individuals who take advantage of programs meant to help those in need.

FEMA is encouraging disaster survivors from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and the California Wildfires to watch for and report any suspicious activity or potential fraud from scam artists, identity thieves and other criminals attempting to defraud the government. In every disaster, it is important to provide information to the public on how to guard against fraud and report suspicious activity.

FEMA remains committed to ensuring that all claims for assistance from eligible applicants are reviewed and processed appropriately. There are several options for survivors to report suspicious activity or disaster fraud. They can contact DHS OIG at (800) 323-8603, TTY 1-844-889-4357.

A fraud complaint may also be completed online at the OIG’s Web site, www.oig.dhs.gov, faxed to 202-254-4297 or mailed to: DHS Office of Inspector General; Mail Stop 0305; Department of Homeland Security; 245 Murray Drive SW; Washington DC 20528-0305. Survivors can also call FEMA’s Office of the Chief Security Officer (OCSO) Tip line at 1-866-223-0814 or e-mail to: FEMA-OCSO-Tipline [at] fema [dot] dhs [dot] gov. If survivors discover someone is misusing their information, they should file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission through their Web site IdentityTheft.gov.

Hotel stays extended to Nov. 27 for survivors

Eligible Hurricane Harvey survivors receiving Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) may receive an extension to stay temporarily in hotels while they look for an alternative place to live, FEMA announced Oct. 31.

Disaster survivors with a continuing need for the hotel sheltering program may be extended to Nov. 27. However, there is a mid-term eligibility review on Nov. 7 where survivors participating in TSA will receive a phone call, e-mail, and/or text message advising them if they have continued eligibility for assistance through a TSA participating hotel.

To be considered for TSA eligibility, disaster survivors must be registered with FEMA for disaster assistance, and meet other TSA eligibility criteria.

FEMA’s Texas clean-up timeline, resources update  

Sept. 23, more than 5,000 volunteers picked up 40 tons of trash from 55 miles of Texas beaches during Adopt-a-Beach Day— organized by the Texas General Land Office (GLO), promoted by the Galveston Bay Foundation and held at 13 sites along the upper coast.

As of Oct. 1, just 37 days after Hurricane Harvey made its first landfall, more than 500 roadways had reopened after being cleared of water and debris, according to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). During the height of Harvey, TxDOT’s DriveTexas.org Web site handled more than 5 million online visits to check road conditions, find alternate routes and see road closures in near real time.

 Oct. 6, the GLO, in conjunction with the U.S. Coast Guard, announced plans to remove 300 displaced and sunken boats damaged in coastal waters as a result of Hurricane Harvey. Owners who are still missing a vessel should call (877) 458-9377.

By Oct. 6, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) had approved 189 temporary debris management sites to handle massive quantities of debris. Field observers from TCEQ continue to visit and monitor staging areas and landfills to ensure compliance with environmental guidelines.

As of Oct. 23, more than 23,000 Harvey survivors have called the Cleanup Assistance Hotline: (844) 965-1386. To date, more than 188 volunteer groups have completed 16,000 requests to muck and gut flood-damaged homes.

The money and the technical know-how needed to remove debris and clean up Texas come from many sources. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers low-interest disaster loans to businesses of all sizes (including landlords), nonprofits, homeowners and renters to cover uninsured/uncompensated losses or damage from Harvey — including the cost of debris removal. Apply online at disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. To date, the SBA has approved more than $1.4 billion in disaster loans for Texans.

Farmers, ranchers, foresters and livestock producers may be eligible for emergency loans through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its Farm Service Agency (FSA) to cover certain losses due to Harvey, such as crops and livestock. Those with questions should go online to fsa.usda.gov or visit an FSA office or USDA service center.

Towns, cities, nonprofits and government agencies seeking reimbursement for their Hurricane Harvey expenses must first submit their Requests for Public Assistance forms to the Texas Division of Emergency Management. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will reimburse eligible jurisdictions for 90 percent of eligible and approved costs of debris removal, as well as emergency protective measures and the repair and replacement of disaster-damaged infrastructure.

See Harvey Facebook page for info

Hurricane Harvey survivors looking for real-time information on recovery efforts in Texas can simply follow the FEMA Harvey Facebook page.

The page, which launched Sep. 12, allows Facebook users to ask questions and receive answers from FEMA about disaster assistance and the recovery process.

For more information on Hurricane Harvey and Texas recovery, visit the Hurricane Harvey disaster Web page at www.fema.gov/disaster/4332, the FEMA Region 6 Twitter account at twitter.com/FEMARegion6, or the Texas Division of Emergency Management Web site at www.dps.texas.gov/dem.

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