Your Finances and Legal Information

You will want to determine whether your financial situation has been affected by the storm. Identify your available financial resources, then list your expenses. Prioritize your expenses so that the necessities are paid for first; then you can evaluate how to spend the funds that remain.

If you are concerned about your ability to pay your bills, the Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) can help you prepare a reasonable budget. CCCS can also help you negotiate a manageable repayment plan for your outstanding debts. There is no fee for services, but you must have some income in your household.

Make a list of all those with whom you do business and inform them of your circumstances if you are concerned about your ability to pay your bills. You may be able to postpone or reduce payments. Keep records of all such conversations and keep copies of everything for your files.

To avoid some consumer pitfalls following the disaster, you may contact the Better Business Bureau (BBB), the Texas Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline or the Texas Department of Insurance for information about how to protect yourself against consumer fraud.

In addition, financial stability resources are available through United Way THRIVE, a collaborative comprising nonprofits, employers, community colleges, financial institutions, and city and state agencies, that work together to provide families with resources, support, and services to help them reach lasting financial independence. To identify a THRIVE partner near you, call 211.

Disaster Unemployment

You may be eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) if you live in a disaster declared area, are not eligible for regular benefits, and one of the following occurred as a direct result of the disaster:
- You lost your job, which was more than 50% of your total income
- You live in, work in, or travel through the disaster area
- Your place of employment was damaged or closed
- You were scheduled to start work but the job no longer exists or you can no longer reach the new job
- You suffered injury or incapacitation
- You became the breadwinner or major supporter of the household due to the death of the head of household

DUA is available only during the Disaster Assistance Period, which begins with the first Sunday following the date that the major disaster is declared. President Biden declared this a Disaster for most of Texas, including Harris County, on Saturday, 2/20/2021. 

To apply, call or visit the website. The Unemployment office will check to see if you are eligible for 'regular' or non-disaster unemployment by asking some questions. If you are not, then you will be eligible to apply for the Disaster Unemployment Benefits. 
Phone: 800-939-6631 (open Mon - Sun 7:00 am - 7:00 pm)
Website: https://www.twc.texas.gov/jobseekers/disaster-unemployment-assistance#applyingForDua

Taxes

Victims of winter storms that began February 11, 2021 now have until June 15, 2021, to file various individual and business tax returns and make tax payments, the Internal Revenue Service announced. Individuals and households affected by severe winter storms that reside or have a business in all 254 Texas counties qualify for tax relief. This includes various 2020 business tax returns due on March 15 and 2020 individual and business returns due on April 15.

Website: https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/tax-relief-in-disaster-situations
IRS Disaster Assistance Hotline: 866-562-5227 (Mon - Fri 7:00 am - 10:00 pm)

Bills

The City of Sugar Land can help with payment adjustments to your water bills. Call or apply before your next bill due date. Call Treasury Management at 281-275-2750 or email Treasury@sugarlandtx.gov. Application form: http://www.sugarlandtx.gov/2092/Winter-Weather-Event---February-2021

Houston Water Bill Adjustments

Houston plans to help those whose water pipes were damaged during the winter freeze. Some residents received unusually steep February water bills after their homes suffered pipe bursts or water leaks due to last month’s winter freeze.
Houston City Council approved a plan to calculate a household’s water bill from last month based on its average monthly water consumption during the previous 12 months, unless the household used less water than usual in February.

  • Residents of single-family homes: automatic bill adjustments would automatically apply to any households that saw its water charges increase last month.
  • Residents/occupants of multi-family homes such as apartment complexes, along with commercial and industrial facility owners: must apply for the adjustment and provide evidence of a claim from a private insurance company or FEMA.
  • Those without such documentation may apply to pay half their full rate on excess water consumption from last month.
  • If water bill is determined to be ‘normal,’ customers will receive their normal bill.
  • City officials plan to continue the moratorium on water service disconnections ordered by Mayor Sylvester Turner near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • For now, residents who received an unexpectedly high water bill should pay the charge from January instead. The city will reimburse those who already paid the higher fee by applying a credit to their April bills — the difference between the higher bill and the amount they should have paid based on their average consumption for the 12 prior months.

Phone: 832-395-2500
Website: https://www.publicworks.houstontx.gov/

Disaster Scams

To report scams, contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Texas Office of the Attorney General at https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/consumer-protection/disaster-and-emergency-scams/disaster-scams or call: 800-621-0508 (Mon - Fri 8:00 am - 12:00 pm, 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm)

Common disaster scams include:

  • Scammers Impersonating Government Entities: Scammers have been spotted posing as state agencies to solicit money from hardworking consumers. There are variations of this scam, such as local law enforcement contacting you with a warrant, agencies asking for donations, back taxes or fines, or asking for your personal information to either confirm innocence or receive a payment. Government agencies do not email or call individuals with financial solicitations. Consumers are advised to keep their personal information private and, if contacted by someone claiming to represent a government agency, go to its official website and find a legitimate phone number to confirm.  
  • Price Gouging: When an emergency takes place, some businesses may raise their prices excessively on essential goods and services like drinking water, housing, food, and fuel. Charging excessive prices for necessities when a emergency has been declared by the governor can constitute price gouging and should be reported. 

Legal Aid Disaster Resource Center (LADRC) 

Provides a website for an overview of legal aid organizations and other helpful recovery assistance available to those impacted by the Texas February 2021 severe winter storms.
https://www.ladrc.org/disasters/texas-severe-winter-storms/

Financial Services and Consumer Advice

Homeowner Finance Tips

Mortgage Assistance - Contact mortgage company to for the following options:

  • Suspended/deferred Mortgage payments
  • Waived penalties or late fees 
  • Suspended reporting mortgage loan delinquencies 
  • Payment modification

Property Taxes - Contact the following agencies for options:

  • County Appraisal District: To reappraise property
  • Texas Comptroller: Tax exemptions and/or filing for extensions
  • IRS: Tax relief for disaster

Legal Services

  • Lone Star Legal Aid: 713-652-0077
  • Houston Volunteer Lawyers offers free legal assistance to those affected.
  • The State Bar of Texas Disaster Hotline: (800) 504-7030. The hotline — answered in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese — connects low-income people affected by a disaster with legal aid providers in their area who can help with such issues as replacing lost documents, answering insurance questions, helping with landlord-tenant problems, and handling consumer protection concerns such as price-gouging and contractor scams during the rebuilding process. Callers can leave a message at any time.
  • TexasLawHelp.org provides this list of legal advice articles for disaster recovery

When large disasters strike, those who survive rarely think about needing legal aid. They are focused on medical treatment, shelter, food, transportation, and communicating with family. But a number of things you will need to do have legal consequences or at least have legal options when you need them.

Here are documents to help you learn about your legal rights after a disaster: