KFDM Investigates: Harvey money

KFDM Investigates: Harvey money

KFDM investigates the flow of relief money into Southeast Texas, where millions of dollars going to Hurricane Harvey aid.

There are concerns among storm victims that relief funding isn't making its way to them.

KFDM/Fox 4's Angel San Juan is tracking relief money, which isn't an easy task.

The main challenge is time.

It could take years to find out whether funding is being spent wisely.

But tonight, Angel San Juan starts the process.

Debris from Tropical Storm Harvey is not just an eyesore, but a costly burden on Southeast Texas cities and counties.

That's why a check from Gov. Greg Abbott's office in late September came as welcome news to Jefferson County leaders.

"I have a check for him to help pay for that debris, $2.6 million dollars," Abbott said in late September.

But county auditor Patrick Swain says the total price of debris removal in the rural parts of Jefferson County is expected to reach $6 million.

"That is going to be reimbursed for us 92 percent, so we would be responsible for about 8 percent that would be $500- to $600,000 would be county portion for that," said Swain.

And those overseeing the county cleanup say it's money well spent with 80 percent of the debris cleared.

But two weeks after the governor's office delivered $10 million to the city of Port Arthur, debris was still sitting in front of their homes.

"We just like something progressing, moving forward, said Port Arthur resident June Anthony. "We need help."

A spokeswoman for the city of Port Arthur maintains it is using the $10 million for debris clean-up.

She says the debris will be cleared by the end of the year.

By the numbers of the one million cubic yards of debris, more than one third is removed so far.

The city of Port Arthur is expecting more money from FEMA as well as insurance.

But can taxpayers want to be sure state and federal dollars are going toward storm recovery.

After all, it's taxpayers' money that communities are spending.

"Well, I can tell them right now, we're tracking every invoice I have an individual in my office that is actually looking at every invoice document as much as we can right now because when you submit for FEMA, they want to know what, when, where, why?" said Swain.

When state and local leaders complained about red tape slowing relief efforts, U.S. Housing Secretary Ben Carson responded.

"The reason why there's so much red tape is because you don't always have good people," Carson said.

Government funding is not the only Harvey-related money under scrutiny.

This week, Gov. Abbott said he expressed concern to the Red Cross that hundreds of millions of dollars in donations weren't getting to people who need it the most.

Storm victim Jerry White says he's one of those people.

"They rejected me, and I was wondering why," White said of he Red Cross.

Angel San Juan: "Did you find out?"

"No she told me to dial the number, which we've been doing," White said.

We met White at a bulk distribution site in Pine Forest where the Red Cross was handing out cleaning supplies and trying to clear up confusion.

The charity is facing criticism.

It's turning down many who are applying for a program that offers $400 in cash to storm victims.

"As a local individual my heart is to give $400 for everybody Angel, cause I lived it, lost my own vehicle, we're part of that as well," said Chester Jourdan with the American Red Cross of Southeast and Deep East Texas. "My heart is to do everything we can to help our local community, but we have a process and so we go through that process. But we said we made a commitment here and we're going to honor that commitment. It may take us longer that we wish, but we're here to honor that commitment."

White claims he's been a frequent donor to the Red Cross.

"Oh yeah a bunch, probably more than they're going to give me," White said.

But even now that he's lost his home and possessions, and the Red Cross has denied his plea for help White is not discouraging donations to the charity.

"Do what their heart tells them, I'd probably do it again, I probably give to them again," he said.

As for government funding, tracking it will likely take years.

"I can tell you, just last year in (2016), we closed out Hurricane Rita, so Rita was in 2005. It was basically 11 years later that we finally closed that project out with FEMA," Swain said.

Swain says Jefferson County received two private donations totaling more than $25,000.

He says county commissioners have not decided how that money will be spent.

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