Texas needs $180B to ‘future-proof’ communities and infrastructure
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is rapidly running out of disaster relief funding as Hurricane Irma hits Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and heads toward Florida. It was first reported by Bloomberg that the federal response to Hurricane Harvey’s devastation in Texas has quickly depleted FEMA’s disaster relief fund, which dropped by $2.14 billion last Thursday to $1.01 billion as of Tuesday. Gov. Greg Abbott said on Sunday that the Harvey recovery could ultimately cost as much as $180 billion.
On Wednesday, the U.S. House voted for a $7.9 billion aid package for losses from Hurricane Harvey. Yesterday, the U.S. Senate voted for a $15.25 billion relief package for Hurricane Harvey. The new funding, attached to legislation to keep the government open and raise the debt ceiling through Dec. 8, was approved by the House this morning. Lawmakers have sent the aid package of $15.25 billion to President Donald Trump.
As Washington hashes out a dollar amount with attachments unrelated to the needs of Harvey’s clean-up, Texas continues to take in other sources of funding for hard-hit communities. On Sept. 1, Abbott launched the Rebuild Texas Fund. He announced that the goal was to raise $100 million for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts over the Labor Day weekend. Through matching funds, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation partnered with Abbott, contributed $36 million and challenged others to donate.
Yesterday, Abbott carried his theme of rebuilding Texas into a newly formed commission that will oversee state resources to help communities impacted by Hurricane Harvey. This board will assess regional needs and provide state resources. Abbott, in a press conference yesterday, said that Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp will head the newly created Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas. Abbott shared that he chose Sharp because of his background as a former state representative, state senator, railroad commissioner, comptroller. He felt Sharp could help local officials cut through red tape and speed the rebuilding process.
Sharp and Abbott plan to visit hurricane-struck areas to meet with local officials and receive on-site briefings that address response efforts and the recovery process. Other agency officials will accompany Abbott and Sharp including representatives from the Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Health and Human Services Commission, Texas Military Department, Texas Department of Transportation, Texas Education Agency, Texas Department of State Health Services, Texas Department of Emergency Management and the Texas Water Development Board. This combined effort will not only assist with rebuilding Texas, but “future-proof” it, as stated by Abbott, to mitigate future problems.
“We want to make sure every county, every city and every school district will get everything their citizens deserve and do it as efficiently as possible,” said Sharp. “Our intent is not to interfere with or duplicate the responsibilities of any other state or federal agencies. We will focus on restoring the work of infrastructure to provide a one-stop shop for access to state and federal resources and to ensure local officials are armed with information crucial for decision making. There will be an information clearinghouse team located in each county. These teams will be backed up by an assistant center at the A&M System headquarters in College Station which will be staffed by experts in problem solving in everything from applying for federal aid to engineering.” These experts will also assist with federal disaster rules, federal and state law, government procurement and large-scale construction issues. Counties covered by the federal disaster declaration will be divided into 5 regions and each region will have its own team members.
Yesterday, Abbott, Sharp and heads of state agencies met with local officials in Corpus Christi and Richmond to begin discussions on the rebuilding process. Yesterday’s visits are part of a three-day, five-city trip to communities impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Today, they will visit the cities of Houston and Victoria.
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