As you know, Texans’ willingness to step up and help their neighbors was a recurring story through the devastating floods of Hurricane Harvey last August. Houstonians were outstanding examples of volunteerism, from manning rescue boats to working in shelters and helping to clean out flooded homes.
However, the storm left the City facing billions of dollars in damage to homes, infrastructure and small businesses. While the Administration has already reduced the required local match from 25 percent to 10 percent, this could still leave the City of Houston responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in local funds that the City simply does not have at its disposal.
Volunteer hours logged in response to the storm would typically be accepted as local match for FEMA Categories A and B (debris removal and emergency protective measures). The City of Houston is proposing that it be allowed to continue tracking Harvey-related volunteer hours as match against categories C-G (permanent work) as well.
Current federal law may limit FEMA’s ability to implement the concept in full. However, agency officials indicate that they may have the authority to allow volunteer hours that can be associated with “permanent work,” but the system needs to be designed and implemented. Also, legislation could be enacted to allow all volunteer work (not just those efforts associated with “permanent work”) to apply toward the local cost-share. Volunteer labor lowers project costs for all levels of government, allows citizens to participate in their community’s recovery, and aligns with the National Disaster Recovery Framework and FEMA’s Whole of Community approach.
The City of Houston is seeking FEMA’s support to begin implementing this volunteer initiative, and is also interested in changes to federal law that may make it easier for FEMA to put the City’s proposal into action most broadly.