Long after the cameras are gone and a disaster has ceased to make headlines, the impact on lives, property and the community continues to be felt for months and years. Government programs can provide many levels of help, but some residents may not meet eligibility criteria. Even citizens who have insurance, or who have received state or federal assistance, may find there are gaps in the safety net, leaving them with unforeseen expenses and varying degrees of unmet needs. That is a why Long-Term Recovery Committee (LTRC) can play an important role in the recovery process.
An LTRC is composed of civic organizations, faith-based institutions, local non-profit voluntary agencies, and other state and local agencies. LTRC assistance is intended to be as flexible as possible to respond to “on-the-ground” needs of survivors not covered by other programs. Unmet needs can involve many things including clean-up and repairs, medical expenses, replacement of essential items like hearing aids or breathing machines, replacement of furniture or appliances (such as air conditioners), school needs of children or even legal assistance.
“After a disaster like the Rio Grande flooding, a Long Term Recovery Committee can be one of the best ways to reach members of the community and provide coordination and assistance,” explained Ben Patterson, State Coordinating Officer for the Hurricane Alex Joint Field Office. “The LTRC is there for the long haul, not just the short term. They know the area, they know the people, they know the problems – and they know where to go for additional support.”
Patterson added: “Voluntary agencies and other groups who are participating in LTRCs are already in place on the ground. Who better to help with long-term issues than the voluntary agencies that have worked with a community day in and day out – even before disaster strikes?”
The mission of an LTRC includes strengthening coordination among agencies in the area affected by the disaster, while working with the Texas Division of Emergency Management as well as federal agencies. An LTRC can provide a platform for sharing information, simplify client access to needed services and prevent overlapping or duplication of services. Each agency functions as an equal partner, but all agencies work together when resolving cases that come before them.
An LTRC caseworker can help families or individuals affected by a disaster develop a recovery plan specifically tailored to their particular situation so they can request and receive the assistance they need. For example, a family registers with FEMA and qualifies for a cash grant to purchase raw materials to make home repairs. By turning to an LTRC, the family may be matched up with a voluntary group that can provide the labor needed to make the actual repairs – thus leveraging the dollars available to them.
“Established LTRCs can live on after a disaster and can be reactivated when emergencies or disasters occur again… and they will,” said Patterson. “LTRCs, in many cases, are the first to respond – and the last to leave when it comes to responding to disasters for communities. An LTRC can coordinate assistance long after other agencies have left the region.”
LTRCs were used effectively in 2008 when Hurricane Dolly struck the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
Four LTRCs have been established along the Rio Grande River this year in the wake of the federally declared flood disaster. They are located in Laredo (serving Webb, Zapata and Jim Hogg counties), Del Rio (serving Val Verde County), Eagle Pass (serving Maverick County) and the Lower Rio Grande Valley (serving Starr, Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties).
“LTRCs are one of the best tools the state has for reaching out to disaster survivors whose needs may not be met by other agencies,” Patterson said. “The best part is that they are composed of people from local groups who are very familiar with the areas they serve.”
State Coordinating Officer Ben Patterson meets with staff members Monica Tomutsa and Juan Sanchez from Congressman Henry Cuellar’s offce at the Joint Field Office (JFO) in Laredo, Texas as they tour and learn about the State and FEMA operations.
(Photo by Daniel Llargues)