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An Early Assessment of Hurricane Harvey’s Impact on Vulnerable Texans in the Gulf Coast Region: Their Voices and Priorities to Inform Rebuilding Efforts

Introduction

Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane near Rockport, Texas on August 25, 2017. Three months later, many Texans in the affected areas continue to recover and rebuild their lives and their communities from this unprecedented natural disaster.

With a record 52 inches of rainfall and massive winds in parts of the region, the flooding caused by the storm had widespread and devastating effects. A total of 41 counties in Southeast Texas were designated as federal disaster areas. As of mid-November, 888,866 individual assistance applications had been received by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and $8.73 billion in federal funds had been provided to affected Texans.1 In some of the hardest hit communities, many residents remain displaced from their homes, and finding continued shelter for these individuals is a major public policy concern. The storm also affected more than 1 million students and 220 school districts across the region.

In order to provide policymakers, funders, and others working on the recovery effort with reliable information about how Texas residents were affected by Hurricane Harvey and what their needs and priorities are when it comes to recovery, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Episcopal Health Foundation partnered to conduct a representative survey of residents in 24 counties along the Texas Gulf Coast that were heavily impacted by property damage from the storm. Both partners worked together to design the survey and analyze the results. The 24 counties were chosen based on a mapping analysis of Harvey property damage developed by FEMA (see Appendix A Figure One), in an effort to examine a contiguous area of counties that suffered the largest share of property damage. The region surveyed divides into four groupings of counties: Harris County (the county where Houston is located and the largest in terms of population); the counties surrounding Harris that are part of the same Regional Council of Governments (“Outside Harris”); the three counties that make up the “Golden Triangle” area east of Houston where the cities of Beaumont, Orange, and Port Arthur are located; and several counties to the southwest of Houston that make up the coastal area including Corpus Christi and Rockport (“Coastal”).2

These 24 counties are home to approximately 7.95 million people, which represents 94 percent of the total population in the 41 counties that were declared as federal disaster areas. This region is incredibly diverse in terms of race and ethnicity (40 percent White, 36 percent Hispanic, 16 percent Black, six percent Asian, and two percent others). On average about 15 percent of the people in the affected region are officially designated as living in poverty, with wide variations in poverty across the counties.3 These counties are also diverse in their population density; eight of the counties we surveyed were designated as rural counties and 16 as urban counties.

The survey was designed to represent the views of residents living in the region overall, and also be able to describe the views and experiences of those living in each of the four regions. In order to represent some of the most vulnerable groups affected by the storm, the survey also included oversamples of lower-income residents, Black and Hispanic residents, and those living in the areas that had the largest amount of property damage as reported by FEMA. Results for the region overall have been weighted to reflect the demographics of the overall population. The survey was fielded from late October through late November, roughly two to three months after Harvey made landfall.

In addition to the survey, the partners conducted five focus groups (three in Houston and two in Beaumont) on October 8 and 9 with lower- and middle-income residents who experienced damage to their homes and/or a loss of income as a result of Hurricane Harvey. The focus group findings highlighted in this report help provide context and add the human story behind some of the quantitative findings from the survey.

Executive Summary Section 1: The Big Picture: Who Was Affected by Harvey and How?

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.