BY NAXIELY LOPEZ
EDINBURG — Federal disaster relief for Hidalgo and Cameron counties now rests in the hands of President Donald Trump following a formal request for aid by Gov. Greg Abbott at a briefing here Tuesday morning.
Abbott signed a federal disaster proclamation for both counties during a visit to the Edinburg Emergency Operations Center, where he took part in a roundtable discussion with several elected officials, emergency management personnel and first responders. The governor spent about an hour assessing the recent floods and learning about the recovery efforts carried out throughout the region.
“We gather today at a time that is very trying for the people of Hidalgo County, Cameron County, and the entire region, (people) who have been dealing with the aftermath of cataclysmic flooding; people whose lives have been turned upside down,” he said following the closed-door discussion.
Ten colonias remained underwater or surrounded by floodwater as of Tuesday morning, and at least 161 people were still living in shelters throughout the region, Abbott said, calling on the president to release Federal Emergency Management Agency funds.
Abbott was joined by a chorus of state officials and local lawmakers in his appeal to the president.
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush also visited the Rio Grande Valley Tuesday to assess the situation. Bush heads the Texas General Land Office, which is tasked with helping Texans recover from a natural disaster, providing both short-term and long-term housing needs for those displaced.
“We have an agreement already in place with FEMA. We have our troops ... We have contractors ready to go that can deliver (manufactured housing units), travel trailers and contractors,” he said Tuesday outside the First Baptist Church in Weslaco, where he met with residents living in the American Red Cross shelter. “So now it comes down to the president and the White House making that declaration. Once that green light is delivered, then FEMA is authorized to work with an agency like ours to begin that (recovery).”
U.S. Reps. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville; Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen; and Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, sent a letter to Trump Friday afternoon expressing their support for Abbott’s request.
“We respectfully request that you issue a disaster declaration for these counties and any counties that may rise to the level of need in the future,” their letter stated. “We also ask that you instruct federal agencies to expedite delivery of all forms of federal disaster assistance for which the state is eligible.”
There are two types of grants FEMA provides. One is for public assistance, which is given to public entities, such as cities, counties and school districts. In order to qualify, however, the affected area must be able to prove it sustained more than $37 million in damages.
“As of today we don’t have the information in yet showing that that metric has been met,” the governor said, encouraging residents to thoroughly document the damages their homes sustained.
FEMA also provides individual assistance to homeowners, and offers up to $33,000 grants to individuals.
“There is a certain number (of affected homes) that must be met, and based upon the information that I have received today, there are two counties that qualify for my request for a federal disaster declaration. They include Cameron County and Hidalgo County,” he said before signing the document. “As additional information comes in, we may be supplementing this disaster declaration ... adding additional counties.”
Homeowners need to wait for the president to issue the declaration before registering with FEMA, Abbott said, adding that if the directive is given, homeowners should not expect to receive $33,000.
“Often times, as we have seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, it has been far less than that,” he said. “FEMA is not going to be able to provide you all of the money that you need in order to rebuild adequately.”
Instead, he said, residents should invest in flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program.
By Tuesday evening, FEMA confirmed to Gonzalez’s office it was in receipt of Abbott’s request.