(Austin, TX) - State Representative James White releases letter to the citizens of Newton county in regards to disaster recovery issues due to the 2016 floods:
Newton County Citizens:
As a military veteran, we always said “that a better informed soldier is a better fighting soldier.” Therefore, let me try to add some clarity from the state level concerning the disaster recovery grants to Newton county.
I always enjoy the emails, the engagement, the Facebook messages, interaction, and the phone calls from my fellow citizens in Newton county. The 2016 floods were devastating and historic and I expect the citizens of Newton to have questions. They love their county and they pay their taxes. Just as their hard earned federal tax dollars have gone to other citizens around this country to respond to disasters, at this hour, the citizens in Newton county are deserving of the same consideration.
First, allow me to do a recent recap of some activities I have been involved in regarding the recovery. During the fall of last year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) authorized slightly more than $1 million to assist with costs that the Deweyville ISD (DISD) incurred. Even though the agency authorized the monies, federal and state bureaucracies delayed the actual payment. A few weeks ago with the superintendent in my Austin office explaining his concerns, I reached out to Senator Robert Nichols and I called a meeting with the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM). Enough is enough. We reached an understanding and within a few days DISD received their money. You have a great school district made up of outstanding students and exceptional educators. We are not finished. Now, we must transition from immediate disaster response, to permanency for DISD.
Since December, I have had a number of meetings with General Land Office (GLO) concerning the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recovery grants. These are federal monies separate from FEMA funding. In fact, during the week of March 6th, I met with them again.
Now, let me explain where I am situated by law with these HUD recovery grant funds. Again, these are federal funds. In Washington, D.C., our U.S. Congress determines how much they will give HUD for disaster recovery. Based on conversations with both U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, along with Congressman Brian Babin and their staffs, I am confident that the estimated $222 million that they sent to HUD on behalf of the Texans impacted by the Spring 2016 floods was the most consideration that they could secure.
After these monies go to HUD, eventually, they are sent to a state agency that has the task, by statute, to receive these funds on behalf of Texas. By statute, this agency is the General Land Office (GLO). Understand, as a member of the Texas Legislature, I do not officially determine the amount that is given to HUD and sent to GLO. In fact, none of these monies come through the normal state budget process. I do not get to vote on if we receive or turn down the money. These monies are allocated based on federal laws. GLO is just a state administrator. Your elected county commissioners’ court based on HUD guidelines, along with assistance from GLO, will choose recovery projects. There is no requirement for the Texas Legislature to approve the projects that your county chooses and nor should the Legislature have the power of approval and disapproval. You and your county leadership is in the best position to make these determinations. GLO has informed me of some of the ideas that your county leadership is thinking about, but your county commissioners’ court is hard at work coming up with a plan. So therefore, I will leave it up to your county officials to have that discussion with you. HUD policies will encourage your county leadership to hold at least one public forum in the future on the projects.
Upon learning the amount granted to Texas, I learned that Newton county is in a grouping with four other very large counties for $177 million. In January 2017, I demanded that GLO use every appropriate measure available to insure that Newton county gets the amount they deserve. Based on some preliminary reports I have received from GLO, I think we are moving in the right direction.
This brings me to another point. The allocations to the state and the county government, along with the recovery projects must meet strict HUD guidelines. Inevitably and may be for unfortunate reasons, politics may play a role, but hopefully a small role. Because of these strict guidelines, the best estimate on when the money is in Texas to start recovery projects is the end of 2017. But again, it is important that we take the time and allow HUD, GLO, and your county government to work through all the processes. Here are some of the federal rules for the $177 million (https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2017-01-18/pdf/2017-01007.pdf) and the rules for the $45 million (http://texasrebuilds.org/Documents/2016%20Floods%20Federal%20Register.pdf).
I extremely honored to represent the citizens of Newton county in the Texas Legislature. Whenever I have visited your county, you have greeted me with love. I love everyone in Newton county. As a state legislator, I may not have any control of HUD, but I do have influence over GLO and I have a great relationship with Land Commissioner George Bush. I saw the baby toys floating in the flooded areas along with other previous personal effects. I know that many ranchers saw their herds drowned in the flood waters. But, I have faith in God that with this continued assistance and prudent execution Newton county will emerge stronger than ever.
No one should ever hesitate to call my office. As a state official, I cannot solve every issue, my staff and I can get you pointed in the right direction. We may not always be able to give you the answer you want to hear, but we will give you the response you need to know.
Being respectful of taxpayer dollars, I have a small staff. The 85th Legislative Session is in full swing until May, but if no one immediately answers, leave a message. My Woodville office number is (409) 283-3700 and the Austin number is (512) 463-0490. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am confident that God will continue to bless you and through you, the great State of Texas.
P.O. Box 395,