Today, I was in Beaumont for a hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Disaster Impact & Recovery that I sit on. Even five months after the storm, the numbers of families who are still dealing with the impact of Harvey across the state are staggering: 16,000 kids are currently in a school district that is different from where they were pre-Harvey (this doesn’t include those in Kingwood High School who are at different campuses) and 10,000 people are still staying in hotels.
One issue that I discussed today with Texas Education Commissioner Morath that is of particular interest to Congressional District Two. For school districts like Humble, who are rebuilding campuses, the TEA is not currently able to help with cash flow issues in the instance of a natural disaster. This creates issues for school districts who are trying to expedite the process of getting kids back into their school. Additionally, school districts like Humble are not being given extra state dollars to help with expenses that arise as a result of having schools move to a different campus.
There were a few themes that were common in today’s testimony: 1. FEMA’s lack of responsiveness to Texas cities and counties leadership and residents is unacceptable. After 5 months, people should not be still living in tents because of the federal government’s red tape. 2. The state and the federal government need to do a better job of preparing for a natural disaster. It’s not a matter of if – but when – will the next storm hits. In particular, Congress needs to look at the Stafford Act and make several changes to expedite the decision making process during natural disasters. The state and local governments need to take the lead in recovery, with support from the federal government, and right now this federal statute prevents that. 3. We may be a few months removed from the storm, but we have a long way to go. The dollars that were allocated by Congress in the days after the storm – are just now getting to residents for programs such as temporary housing and making homes livable.
I think that Orange Mayor Jimmy Sims put it best when he said, “The process is very painful dealing with the federal government.” Throughout the day, it was clear that our next Congressman must push FEMA and HUD to work better together and with the state agencies. It is going to take an experienced person with legislative experience who will come in knowledgeable of the issues and prepared to fight for their constituents, This individual must not accept the status quo when it comes to preparations being made to ensure that in the future we have an effective infrastructure and flood mitigation plan. I have been in the fight on behalf of my neighbors in House District 126; I would be honored if you place the same faith that they have, so that I can be an advocate for to you in Congress.