By State Sen. Robert Nichols

Hurricane Harvey brought unfathomable destruction to coastal and southeast Texas. I want to use this column to describe how you or your loved ones can get help or volunteer. To volunteer, visit the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, https://www.nvoad.org/hurricane-harvey/volunteer/, and they will pair you with an organization that will use you to do the most good for the hurricane victims. National VOAD members will be providing relief and recovery for years to come, and they will need your assistance.I want to thank President Donald Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott for working quickly to help our region. Because the counties Harvey hit the hardest are within a Presidential Disaster Declaration area, Texans there are eligible for a range of services. Please visit https://www.disasterassistance.gov/ and type in your full physical address of your home to see whether you are eligible for these services, called Individual Assistance.The Individual Assistance program ensures disaster survivors have timely access to a full range of authorized programs and services to maximize recovery, through partnered coordination of federal, state and local governments, as well as nongovernmental organizations and the private sector.Here are some of the Individual Assistance programs:

• Mass Care and Emergency Assistance: Mass Care activities include congregate sheltering; feeding and hydration; distribution of emergency supplies; and reunification of children and adults with their families. Emergency Assistance activities include voluntary agency coordination; donations management; non-congregate and transitional sheltering; support to individuals with access and functional needs in shelters; support to children in disasters; support for mass evacuations; and support for household pets and service animals.
• Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program (CCP): CCP assists individuals and communities recovering from the effects of a natural or human caused disaster through the provision of community based outreach and psycho-educational services.
• Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA): DUA provides unemployment benefits and reemployment services to individuals who have become unemployed as a result of a major disaster and who are not eligible for regular State unemployment insurance.
• Disaster Legal Services (DLS): DLS provides legal assistance to low income individuals who, prior to or as a result of the disaster, are unable to secure legal services adequate to meet their disaster related needs. FEMA, through an agreement with the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association, provides free legal help for disaster survivors.
• Disaster Case Management (DCM): DCMP is a program that involves a partnership between a disaster case manager and a survivor to develop and carry out a Disaster Recovery Plan. The process involves an assessment of the survivor’s verified disaster caused unmet needs, development of a plan that outlines the steps necessary to achieve recovery, organization and coordination of information on available resources that match the disaster caused unmet needs, monitoring of progress towards the recovery plan goals and, when necessary, client advocacy.
• Individuals and Households Program (IHP): IHP has two provisions: Housing Assistance and Other Needs Assistance. Housing Assistance provides financial and direct assistance or both to eligible disaster survivors who have necessary expenses and serious needs that they are unable to meet through other means, such as insurance. This help may be in the form of Temporary Housing, Repair, Replacement, and Semi-Permanent or Permanent Housing Construction. Other Needs Assistance provides financial assistance to individuals and households who have other disaster-related necessary expenses or serious needs such as medical, dental, child care, funeral, personal property, and transportation costs.

Disaster survivors may call the Federal Emergency Management Agency toll-free at 800-621-3362 to register for assistance or check their application status. Disaster survivors who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability and use a TTY may call 800-462-7585. Disaster survivors who use 711 or VRS (Video Relay Service), may call 800-621-3362. Again, you may visit https://www.disasterassistance.gov/ and type in your full physical address of your home to see whether you are eligible for these services. If you’re planning on traveling through the areas where Harvey hit, please use extra caution. The Texas Department of Transportation is continually updating its Drive Texas website to reflect changes to state road conditions throughout Texas. Please check https://drivetexas.org/ Please keep our leaders, our first responders, the volunteers, the survivors and the victims of Hurricane Harvey in your thoughts and prayers.