THE FRONT YARD – No, this is not another poor-little-me Hurricane Harvey story. This is a story of wealth beyond your imagination, yachts, gold bars and even a cup of Starbucks chocolate latte with whip cream topping. You see, in the wake of that storm, aid is pouring in, like billions, and we need to get our share, but it’s going to require time, patience and our simple animal cunning. Hey, somebody is going to be on the receiving end of this monumental dole, so why not us?
Let’s look at the landscape which, in my neighborhood of Running Rats Acres, looks like Walmart after a Black Friday sale. The Texas Gulf Coast, Florida, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico got blasted by Hurricane Harvey, Maria and some I can’t remember. Within weeks FEMA was on the scene in Puerto Rico handing out toothbrushes and soap. (The water to use them was on the way.) Even later President Donald Trump, not wishing to catch heat the way President George W. did by simply flying over Katrina’s New Orleans and gazing out at the drowning peasants below), actually flew to Puerto Rico, went to a nearby hangar and tossed rolls of paper towels to the great unwashed (still waiting for water). Then he returned to Washington, where he tweeted that the residents of Puerto Rico were waiting for someone else to fix things.
Congress sprang into action and voted that somebody do something. It approved $15.25 billion in September for Texas as a down payment to start the recovery process, which included $7.4 billion for a “community development block grant.” Congress then cleared a $36.5 billion aid package for hurricane relief, and Texas was in front of the line for the cash, as is our due. (President Trump has agreed in principle that Texas will get a greater share of federal disaster assistance funds than other states.)
But Texas Gov. Greg (“I hate Washington”) Abbott said those federal funds weren’t near enough, with Texas damages expected to eventually top $150 billion. He wanted $18.7 billion more on top of the $15.25 million, and he wanted it yesterday. Then he went to Washington asking for an additional $61 billion. However, Land Commissioner George P. Bush warned the money must go through a lot of red tape before Texans will see any of it. He said that historically, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has taken from nine months to nearly three years to get that money to the people who need it. So, survivors, help is on the way – in 2020.
As the governments dragged along, private organizations stepped in. There have been chili cook-offs and benefits. Five ex-presidents held a Deep in the Heart concert and raised $2.6 million. Harris County and the City of Houston are spending $20 million buying out flooded houses, and have asked for another $17 million. Houston Texan J.J. Watt wanted to raise $200,000 for Harvey relief and got $30.2 million and climbing. On the receiving end are a parade of groups: The Houston Harvey Relief Fund, the Rebuild Texas Fund, Juntos y Unidoes Por Puerto Rico, the Fund for the Virgin Fund and many. Many more.
How much of those billions will you actually see? Probably zero, so we make our move. We hit up people quickly, while Harvey is fresh, and they give because they are both generous and suffer from survivor’s guilt. I just created the Fund for Doing Good Things, but will also start Veterans Helping Draft Dodgers, or maybe the other way around, Texans Helping Ourselves, the Harvey Fund for Financial Fitness and Flood Victims Anonymous. Money will pour in. Here’s another way to skin this cat. Get some of the loot being passed around. For example, what on earth is a “community development block?” Maybe it’s funds for a block in the community. Our block. It’s getting $7.5 billion, and we deserve a slice. Hit up the Department of Agriculture (be sure to ask for repayment for those 4,000 acres of kale you almost planted) and cash from HUD for the 23 gypsies you took in.
Then there is FEMA, which is dispensing billions of dollars to, well, someone. We may never know. I am dealing with FEMA over the loss of my possessions and damage to my house. They put replacement cost for my den furniture at $34, but are balking at the estimate for my collection of letters from Washington to Jefferson, the Faberge eggs and Dorothy’s red slippers, which they claim were stolen by the gypsies. FEMA wants receipts for most items. Where did you store the receipt for the bathtub you bought in 1982? It’s not just homes. Your business suffered, too. How much does it cost to replace tattoo needles? Thousands. No price can be placed on the goodwill and reputation of your adult book store, but $100,000 is low-balling it.
Oh, sure, we are already hearing about watchdogs in Austin and Washington who will make sure all the donations get to their intended targets. We must remember the U.S. Inspector General who found $30 billion missing in aid to Iraq. It’s not just cash. You need to replace that three-level swimming pool you were going to install. Remember the $30 million spent in Afghanistan for a big facility the Marines never asked for and never used. So I think we are pretty safe in not getting caught.
Here’s another tip: Since much of the west side of Houston survived the actual hurricane, but were flooded when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened flood gates on two dams and inundated scores of neighborhoods, lawyers are in high heat. I’m not sure you can sue the U.S. Army, but if you win you may be paid in either MRE rations or Abrams battle tanks.
So get your cut of the billions of dollars being showered on real or imagined victims of Hurricane Harvey — in 2020.
Ashby raises kale at email@example.com