Tag Archive for: grants

FEMA Simplifying Procedures for Small Public Assistance Grants

On January 9, 2023, FEMA released a Simplified Procedures policy for Public Assistance grants to speed up recovery for applicants. Small projects are now defined as those up to $1 million.

The new policy should reduce administrative burdens and enable communities to recover more quickly after presidentially declared events by streamlining documentation requirements.

FEMA will accept estimates with summary information and the applicant’s certifications for damage and work, instead of requiring applicants to provide full or detailed documentation. 

FEMA Press Release

FEMA conducted a review in 2020. It showed that if a $1 million threshold were applied, 94 percent of projects would be considered small and help put additional recovery dollars in the hands of applicants faster and accelerate closure of projects.

FEMA intends to continue adjusting the threshold annually to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index. It also intends to review the base threshold every three years.

The new policy is not directly aimed at individuals, but at state and local governments and certain types of private nonprofit organizations. Public Assistance grants cover such things as:

  • Disaster-related debris removal
  • Emergency protective measures
  • Repairs to damaged or destroyed infrastructure (i.e., roads).
FM 1010
FM1010 Washout during Harvey at Rocky Branch in Plum Grove near the East Fork. Still not repaired after 5.5 years.

Depending on repair cost and other factors, the road washout above is an example of the type of project that might benefit from the new policy. However, it’s not clear whether the simplified procedures apply retroactively to damage from past disasters or only future disasters. More details will follow.

How Public Assistance Usually Works

In general, applicants submit Requests for Public Assistance (RPAs) within 30 days of the disaster declaration. They must demonstrate that:

  • Damage is in a designated area
  • Applicant has legal responsibility to perform the work
  • Cost is reasonable.

Once FEMA and the state review and approve the government agencies’ or nonprofits’ RPAs, applicants work with their FEMA representative to develop a damage inventory. 

FEMA obligates funds to the state once a project meets Stafford Act eligibility requirements. The state is the official recipient of FEMA federal assistance. The state is then responsible for disbursing the money to applicants. 

FEMA will hold a series of webinars in coming weeks to explain more about the simplified policy. Additional details are not yet available.

Getting aid to people faster after a disaster is necessary. This is a very complex subject. I wish all forms of disaster relief, including hazard mitigation, could be simplified. We’re still waiting on the Harris County, the GLO and HUD to agree on a plan for spending $750 million in mitigation funds related to Hurricane Harvey – 5.5 years after the event!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/12/23 based on a FEMA Press Release

1962 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Details of SJRA Application to TWDB for Grant to Develop Sand Traps

In March, the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) awarded engineering firm Freese & Nichols a $250,000 work order for “Conceptual Design” of sand traps. Then in June, SJRA applied for a $200,000 grant from the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) for “Preliminary Design” of sand traps on the West Fork. What’s this all about? How do the projects relate? Are they worthwhile?

West Fork 90% Blocked After Harvey

After Harvey, the Army Corps documented that the West Fork had become 90% blocked by sediment in places. That contributed to the flooding of thousands of homes and businesses. It also triggered a massive dredging program that is still ongoing. Finally, it launched a search for solutions that stretched all the way to Austin (plus, interestingly, Kerrville and San Antonio). See more below.

SB1824 Opens Door for Sand Traps

House Bill 1824 was introduced by State Rep. Murr from Kerrville and sponsored by Senator Flores from San Antonio. Approved last year, it allows SJRA and Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) to remove material from the San Jacinto River and its tributaries to restore, maintain, or expand storm flow capacity without the need for “state permitting” or royalty payments to the state.

SJRA and HCFCD hope to mitigate flooding by constructing one or more “sand traps.” Their plan calls for partnering with Aggregate Production Operations (APOs) in the vicinity of the sand trap(s) to clean them out periodically. It’s not yet clear whether APO’s would do this for a fee, or do it for the sand. One thing is clear, at this point, however. APO’s don’t want to go far. All the locations under consideration are next to sand mines.

Freese & Nichols Already Underway with Phase 1

The first phase of the project, Freese & Nichols’ conceptual design, is currently underway. It includes:

  • Evaluating potential sand trap locations and trapping effectiveness
  • Developing conceptual sand trap designs
  • Determining downstream benefits of potential sand trap solutions
  • Recommending which site(s) to carry forward into preliminary engineering.

Phase 2 of Pilot Goes Further

The goal: to move forward with preliminary engineering on two sites, with the likely construction of at least one. This small scale effort, involving only one or two sand traps, is intended to act as a “pilot” before a more costly, full-scale program.

Preliminary results in the first phase indicate that the sand traps will likely be located along the West Fork.

However, to move beyond conceptual design, even on the pilot, SJRA needs more money to supplement local match resources.

If successful, the TWDB grant application for preliminary design will cover:

  • Environmental permitting investigation
  • Preliminary land acquisition efforts
  • Survey
  • Geotechnical investigation
  • 30% design efforts.

Need for Sediment Control of Some Sort

To date, more than 2.3 million cubic yards of material have been removed from the West Fork, at a cost of more than $90 million. An additional $30 million has been dedicated to continue these efforts. SJRA hopes sand traps will help protect that investment.

It seems, though, that reducing sediment coming out of sand mines might be a simpler, less-risky, more cost-effective solution.


Long-term benefits beyond the initial sand trap development “pilot” project are anticipated to potentially extend beyond the immediate benefit area.

Benefits include potential reduction of sediment load entering Lake Houston.

Primary benefit area is in purple along West Fork. Secondary benefit area is in green (Lake Houston).

SJRA can not yet quantify the level of flood mitigation provided by the sand trap(s). However, restoring or expanding storm flow capacity could potentially remove structures from the floodplain, they say. The conceptual design phase currently underway will attempt to evaluate downstream hydraulic benefits.


If this abridged application succeeds, SJRA will need to submit a more detailed application. TWDB won’t report results on that until late this year.

Freese & Nichols should report the results of their conceptual study this September.

SJRA anticipates it can complete the preliminary engineering study in 18 months. However, construction will take longer – up to 36 months.

Next Steps

If results of this pilot project indicate that sand traps are a feasible and effective solution, a larger program in various locations throughout the basin could be implemented.

Preliminary cost estimates will be developed as part of the conceptual design phase currently underway. So SJRA has not yet determined a benefit/cost ratio.

However, the cost of dredging has proved substantial. And the cost of flooding during Harvey proved astronomical. Reducing those costs just 1% could easily justify the cost of this project.

We have too many unknowns at this point to pass judgment.

  • How much will the project cost?
  • Will sand traps be effective?
  • Who will maintain a trap when a sand mine goes out of business?
  • What will the environmental impact be?
  • Will the traps accelerate erosion and jeopardize infrastructure such as pipelines and bridges?
  • Is this the opening volley in an effort to begin large-scale river mining?

Scientific literature and news reports on sand traps generally indicate mixed results.

I will withhold judgement until I learn more.

To review the abridged application, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/9/2020

1045 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Help for Small Businesses Recovering from Harvey in Lake Houston Area

While Harvey had a devastating impact on the area’s residential community, what we’ve not yet come to fully address or understand is the impact Harvey had on small businesses.

44 Percent of Area Small Businesses Affected by Harvey

The Small Business Administration issued more than 3,300 unique identifiers for businesses in the aftermath of Harvey. This represents almost 44 percent of all businesses in the Lake Houston area. While some business devastation was obvious in Humble along I-69, or  Town Center and Kings Harbor in Kingwood, a multitude of other low-profile businesses also suffered physical damage and economic loss.

Commercial Area near FM1960 and Atascocita Road looking west toward Lake Houston

There is no FEMA equivalent for small businesses; many were left without help after Harvey. As a result, many small business owners depleted life savings, took out home equity loans or drew down retirement accounts to keep their businesses running. For the many that lost homes as well as businesses, circumstances were even more dire.

Many small business owners depleted life savings, took out home equity loans or drew down retirement accounts to keep their businesses running.

The SBA made a significant positive impact to the area’s small businesses. But not all businesses qualified for a loan and a majority of SBA funding went to residents. Typically, 80 percent goes to residential and 20 percent to small businesses.

Lake Houston Economic Development Partnership Helps Address Gaps

To address this imbalance, the Lake Houston Economic Development Partnership partnered with SBA, LiftFund, Federal Home Loan Bank, Lake Houston Area Relief Fund, Rebuild Texas Fund and several others. Our goal: to help small businesses via zero interest deferred loans, newly developed grant programs, tax credits and disaster recovery assistance.

We cannot meet current demand for all small business assistance. However, we can build long-term support systems to help the Lake Houston Area recover, and to keep it vibrant and growing.

Two small business funding programs have begun to make a significant impact in our area; both focus on accelerating recovery from Harvey.

Zero Interest Loans from LiftFund

First, LiftFund has been a partner of the Lake Houston Economic Development Partnership and Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce since October of 2017. We hosted their first satellite workshop in the chamber offices on November 2, 2017, and have since funded several Lake Houston area businesses with zero interest loans up to $25,000 with a four month deferment period.

The current LiftFund minimum application requirements include a direct physical and or financial impact from Hurricane Harvey, having been in business at least one year prior to Harvey, and the ability to provide other documentation. That documentation includes three months of business and personal bank statements along with the company’s most recently filed tax return. LiftFund’s disaster recovery loan application link is: https://www.liftfund.com/texas-rebuild-initiative/.

Grant Program for Small Businesses

Our second small business funding program launched in March 2018 – the Lake Houston Harvey Small Business Grant Program. It provides grants ranging from $2500 to $5000 for businesses directly impacted by Harvey. It only covers the Lake Houston area – zip codes 770044, 77338, 77339, 77345, 77346 and 77396. Individual companies must have been in business at least a year before Harvey and provide business and personal bank statements along with their most recently filed federal tax return.

Grant dollars can be used for operations and asset purchases directly related to Harvey recovery. The full guidelines and qualification criteria can be found on the Lake Houston Economic Development Partnership’s website: http://www.lakehoustonedp.org/lha-harvey-small-business-grant/or by emailing mmitchell@lakehouston.org.

Small Businesses Employ 80 Percent of All Employees

Small businesses employ roughly 80 percent of all workers in both Texas and the United States. We must make sure that our recovery includes homes and the life blood of the Lake Houston area, our small businesses. So please, share this information with small business owners you may know so we can help them rebuild and thrive. Let them know that the broader community is working on their behalf.

Posted by Mark Mitchell
President, Lake Houston Economic Development Partnership

242 Days since Hurricane Harvey