Lawmakers push FEMA, Biden to expand disaster declaration to all Texas counties

Texas

WASHINGTON (KXAN) — Twenty-seven Congressional leaders from Texas — from both sides of the political aisle — are calling on President Joe Biden and FEMA to expand the federal disaster declaration in Texas to cover all 254 counties.

The disaster declaration the president signed on Saturday only includes 77 Texas counties. In the letter to the White House, lawmakers said that declaration “falls far short of the actual needs of our state.” Monday afternoon, Gov. Greg Abbott announced FEMA had approved federal disaster aid for 31 additional counties.

That still does not meet the continued demands from that bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers.

“The continued delay of FEMA Individual Assistance to all 254 counties, in the State of Texas, will only prolong the suffering of millions of Americans,” the representatives added.

Some viewers have reached out to KXAN about their inability to apply for federal disaster aid and get help from FEMA.

“I live in Llano County and we were out of electricity from Sunday the 14th until late Friday evening the 19th with lows below 4°F. We ALL have suffered unlivable damage to our homes,” viewer Alan Crawford wrote to KXAN.

“I live in Llano County,” viewer Kelly Sheppard added. “I have every pipe under my home broken, 78609 zip code. I’m not included in the disaster relief. Why?”

Like many in the Austin area, parts of Llano had no power for multiple days and also had to endure no water. Even with now 108 counties getting FEMA aid, Llano County is not among them.

RR 2323 in Llano County on Feb. 16, 2021 (Courtesy: Cindy Williams)

What FEMA is saying

Earlier in the day Monday, a FEMA spokesperson told KXAN that it continues to assess those other counties and asked people who are making repairs to save their receipts:

“FEMA Major Disaster Declarations routinely begin with an initial set of counties for which damage information is available.  The 77 counties authorized for Individual Assistance by the Major Disaster Declaration are a start.  Additional designations may be made at a later date as we continue working with the state to review any further damage assessments. All insured Texas homeowners and renters should file a claim with their insurance provider, document damages to their home from the storm, and keep receipts for all expenses related to repairs.  FEMA assistance is available for uninsured losses by registering at disasterassistance.gov.”

Who signed the letter and who did not

In the KXAN viewing area, President Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Bastrop, Blanco, Caldwell, Gillespie, Hays, Travis and Williamson counties. On Monday, Burnet and Milam counties were added to that declaration. So far, federal aid has not been approved for Fayette, Lampasas, Lee, Llano, Mason or San Saba counties.

Twenty-seven Texas representatives signed the letter and eight did not. Two of the eight who did not sign the letter were Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, and Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin. New Rep. August Pfluger, R-Midland, who just got to Washington last month, led the bipartisan effort along with Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-San Antonio. Pfluger represents Llano County.

Roy sent a letter to the Texas Division of Emergency Management and FEMA asking for them to prioritize the assessment of counties that have not been approved for the disaster declaration:

“It is my understanding that these counties have not been denied Individual Assistance, but that the assessment of uninsured real and personal property damage for these counties has not yet been completed to determine their needs,” Roy wrote. “Please make the completion of that assessment a priority so that these constituents have some certainty as to what resources are available to them.”

We reached out to Rep. Doggett’s office and will update this story with his response.

Reaction from other Texas lawmakers

Rep. Roger Williams represents multiple counties not included in the federal disaster declaration. His press office sent us this statement:

“Congressman Williams supports the disaster declaration for all 254 counties in Texas, including the 13 counties that make up TX-25. Every community was impacted by the devastating storms that hit the state last week and none should be excluded from receiving federal relief.”

KXAN reached out to Gov. Greg Abbott’s office to see if the governor planned to push for more counties to be added. They referred us back to their news release from Saturday where the governor said the following:

“While this partial approval is an important first step, Texas will continue to work with our federal partners to ensure all eligible Texans have access to the relief they need.”

After 31 additional counties were added Monday, Gov. Abbott said:

“I thank FEMA for their swift approval of these additional counties and for their continued partnership as we ensure Texans have access to relief following the winter storm. I urge Texans to use the Texas Individual Assistance Reporting Tool so that the state can continue to identify damages and fight for the crucial assistance that our communities need.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaking Monday in Abilene said that Gov. Abbott continues to work on expanding the disaster declaration.

“He’s talked to the President several times. Where we’re not getting it, we’re going to push to get it because there’s no reason in my view that Abilene shouldn’t have received it,” Patrick said. “Pretty much all 254 counties had severe damage.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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