FEMA Disaster Recovery Center at Washington Square Mall | Credit: Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter

Federal efforts to help Austinites affected by July 2 flooding will continue if the federal government shuts down – at least at first.

If the shutdown does happen, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will shift the funding it does have to respond to any new disasters and continue to work in the active disaster areas. But while the government is shut down, no new money will be coming in, and FEMA hasn’t ruled out further cuts.

This comes as the disaster relief agency continues to try to reach out to survivors ahead of the Oct. 16 deadline. FEMA has been trying to let the residents know that the disaster relief grants can be used to repair or replace water-damaged furnaces. The amount they can get varies, but they could potentially get the entire cost covered.

In a statement to the media, FEMA press secretary Jeremy Edwards said that if the government shuts down, the Disaster Relief Fund, the agency’s primary funding source, won’t be replenished, forcing it to ration what it does have. Most of the affected projects have to do with covid-19 mitigation. Overall, FEMA would withhold funding for more than $62.2 million in disaster response projects.

“While we are postured to carry out our life-saving and life sustaining missions, the long term recovery needs of communities will suffer as we are forced to pause payments for public assistance and hazard mitigation projects,” Edwards said. “The bottom line is this: FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund must be replenished in order for us to help all communities fully recover.”

Even if the shutdown doesn’t happen, FEMA will be reducing hours for Disaster Recovery Centers, where residents affected by flood can get in-person help with their applications. Effective Oct. 1, none of them will be open on Sunday. The North Austin center at Washington Square Mall, 4851 W. North Ave., and Garfield Community Service Center, 10 S. Kedzie Ave., will be open from 8 a.m to 5 p.m. The South Austin center at the Columbus Park Fieldhouse, 500 S. Central Ave., will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, and from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. 

Meanwhile, aid to the West Side continues to flow. FEMA spokesperson Leyla Gulen said that, as of Sept. 29, applicants in the West Side wards received more than $44.5 million in disaster relief funding – nearly $6.7 million more than on Sept. 11, the last time Austin Weekly News requested those numbers. More than $21.8 million of that went to the 37th Ward, which includes most of Austin east of Central Avenue and parts of West Humboldt Park. The 29th Ward, which includes the portions of Austin west of Central Avenue and parts of South Austin further east, got $more than $8.4 million. The 28th Ward, which includes a portion of South Austin, all of West Garfield Park and half of East Garfield Park, got more than $8.8 million, while the 24th Ward, which includes a small sliver of Austin and most of North Lawndale, received more than $5.5 million.

There is also the matter of the scope of repairs. In an interview last week, David Cherry, co-head of the Leaders Network coalition, said he was concerned that FEMA grants weren’t enough to cover the repair and replacement for furnaces – and that some people are still waiting for money.

“Right now, the weather is fine, but we’ve been facing this issue since the very beginning,” he said. “The longer the help is delayed, the closer we get to colder weather, and these furnaces are not replaced, there’s a lot of people who are looking at the very cold fall and the cold winter.”

FEMA sent out a statement a day later encouraging flood victims to apply for FEMA aid to get those furnaces replaced.

The amount of time it takes for the applicants to get aid varies, Gulen said, but “it is not unlikely” that applicants who signed up for direct deposit can get it “within 3-4 days” after the acceptance.

If the FEMA assistance isn’t enough, she added, FEMA “encourages survivors to connect with local, county, city, and state officials to see if additional resources are available to assist with repairing or replacing a furnace.”

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...