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I'm the author of The Liberty Pole. I dabble a bit in blogging and have a fascination with early American history (late 18th century) as well as WWII. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Guest Post: Funds for West Texas Relief Withheld

Many around the country heard about the explosion at the West, Texas plant in April of this year. The following is a guest-post by author C.E. Thornton on the progress - or lack there of - of the availability of funds that the people most affected by this tragedy have seen. Please read the following and spread the word. I've linked to the original article above (her name). Please spread the word so that West does not fall through the cracks.


Funds for West Texas Relief Withheld
I have been unable to get anyone to publish this article so I’m posting it here. The following is extremely important information, everyone. It not only reveals the plight of the citizens of West, but also what many others who have lost their homes in fires and floods this summer potentially face. This is not a one-time phenomenon. Please take the time to read the article, or at the very least scroll to the bottom to see how you can help.
Funds for West Texas Relief Withheld:
For most of the world, the tragedy in West, Texas that began with the explosion of the fertilizer plant, ended with a remarkable outpouring of support from fellow Texans and friends far away, raising money and sending more supplies than the town could handle. With over $3 million funds donated, everything seemed on track for a fast recovery and rebuild.
But nearly half a year on, for residents from Zone 3, the area decimated by the explosion, life is still surreal, the newly vacant landscape unrecognizable and bizarre. And the funds meant to help restore their world to some sense of normality are nowhere to be found.
“I don’t know where that money is, but it’s not where it needs to be,” West resident Rachel Matus said. Matus, who works as a schoolteacher in nearby Bellmead, lost her home in the blast, and to date has received no money from the fund to help rebuild her home with her husband, James. The lack of aid to those affected, whose experiences range from lost homes to life-altering injuries, outrages citizens of West and donors alike.
“I wrote an email to the ATX Mafia girls asking them what they thought about the $54,000 they had raised still sitting in an account,” Matus said. “They called their contact at State National Bank (in West) because that’s where they brought their check. He told them they needed 5.2+ million to assist everyone who was impacted and since they only had 3.2 million at the time they had to put a plan into place to allocate the funds on a case-by-case basis.”
Calls of inquiry to the Long Term Recovery Center, the group in charge of rebuilding West, went unanswered, but the information from State National further stated how the funds would be used to “help those who are in need most.”
“Each individual who lost their homes would provide the committee with their FEMA and insurance allocation in order to determine the amount they would receive from the raised funds,” Matus said. “The thing that bothers me about that is we don’t have to disclose how much we got from our insurance company. That should have nothing to do with the amount we get from the donations.”
Matus attends the town meetings regularly to keep up with any developments. So far, the only development is the increasing frustration and lack of proper information.
“We were told it’s actually a national law that if you get more than $31,900 from your insurance, you aren’t eligible for any help at all from FEMA, which is fine because most people in West didn’t want anything from FEMA,” Matus said. “Basically at the meeting they told us if you got this $31,900 and you still need help for unmet needs, they kept using that phrase, you have to go through this whole long list (of organizations), and everyone is supposed to meet with their case worker every week to go over these needs. This list included FEMA, SBA, Salvation Army, and on a lot of this stuff, most of us in zone 3 don’t qualify for any of that because we had good insurance and we have good jobs.”
For example, if your income reaches a certain amount you’re not eligible for the SBA (Small Business Administration) loan. Matus and her husband didn’t qualify for aid through the organizations on the list and received no financial relief outside of their own insurance.
“We were responsible and paid to have our house insured,” Matus said. “We went to college and got degrees and now have good jobs. So basically we were told we were out of luck, because those donated funds are now the last resort instead of what we understood it, as a first resort.”
The town meetings only added insult to injury. Matus quoted the case manager’s response to questions at the town meetings.
“She said, ‘If FEMA rebuilds your home it’ll be a $40,000 home. It won’t be brick, and it won’t have your pretty wrap-around porch and it won’t have your pool or you 3-car garage.’ Well that’s fine and dandy but a lot of subdivisions in west have their own rules. Almost every subdivision on that side of town you have to have a brick home! Therefore a FEMA house isn’t doing anyone any good.
“She went into this whole spiel about as long as your living is safe, sanitary and secure, the three S’s, then you are taken care of. Your needs are met. So that was the thing is that ok, well if I build a house that’s safe, sanitary and secure, then you’re not going to help me when I want more than a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom house, which is their other stipulation. What about people who have families?
“Most people over there were retired, had raised their kids and built a beautiful home for themselves. Their homes were worth $160,000 and not you’re telling them ‘well you can still be safe sanitary and secure and not need all that stuff.’ That’s not fair to tell anybody. When we told them that they said ‘well it’s not fair that this happened at all.’”
Citizens of West aren’t looking for replaced pools and three-car garages. The money was raised to rebuild homes akin to the ones lost, and to cover the mounting medical bills many injured residents now face. As donors learn their money never made it to those who needed it most, some attempted to retrieve the donations to redistribute through more reliable organizations, like the First United Methodist Church of West. So far no one has succeeded.
“(The donors) didn’t know that there were going to be all these stipulations and all that money was going to be caught in banks for years,” Matus said. “Then they (the LTRC spokespeople) said, said for the first time that the money couldn’t be dispersed because of rules the IRS put into place, that the IRS says you can’t just give out that money, you can’t split it evenly. That was the first time any of them said anything about the IRS. So that’s when everyone started asking, ‘So why aren’t all these donors warned of that fact when they donated? They didn’t know!’
The disbursement board, made up of West residents, but only one affected by the blast, claimed it was too soon to get frustrated, and that the system would work if people appealed their cases to FEMA multiple times if they were rejected, before requesting money from the relief funds for unmet needs. But there simply isn’t time for the people of West to wait for a miracle.
“What is considered to be an unmet need?” Matus said. “We’re rebuilding. We had good insurance, but that went to pay off our mortgage, and then we’re supposed to buy and furnish an entire house? We can’t! We had to take out a loan. We’re going to be ok, but there are so many people who aren’t going to be able to qualify for a loan like we are.”
Like Matus, most of the families in West are struggling to find ways to move forward entirely on their own, taking out loans when they can, and working longer hours and odd jobs to raise a little extra money.
“Basically, that money is going to sit there until the city eventually ‘inherits’ it,” Matus said. “They’ll do what they need to do with it so it won’t reach the citizens in a timely fashion.”
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WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP:
1. Reblog this post. Don’t just reblog it; link to it on your twitter, facebook and forums. Spread it and get your friends to spread it. The more people who share the more people are aware, and the more people who can help us act on this. Someone out there will know what to do.
2. Reach out to your news sources. City papers, online news sources, anything. I’ve been dropping tips but if we send in an overwhelming number of requests to get this covered on local and national media, we’ll have a better chance. If they want a person of contact send them my way and I can get them where they need to be.
3. If you have any funds to donate, send them here, where they will definitely go to help people:
First United Methodist Church
411 W. Pine
West, Texas 76691.
If you run a newspaper and want to run this story, feel free; just put my name on it!
-Caera Thornton