Disaster Relief and Recovery
Our coastal district is no stranger to the vagaries of the weather, especially with fierce storms blowing ashore from the Gulf of Mexico. Indeed, long before the National Weather Service began naming hurricanes, the Great Galveston Storm of 1900 remains the deadliest storm in U.S. history, with an estimated 6,000 to 12,000 lives lost.
In my lifetime alone, Hurricanes Audrey (1957), Debra (1959), Carla (1961), Editha and Fern (both in 1971), Anita (1977), Jeanne (1980), Alicia (1983), Juan (1985), Chantal and Jerry (both in 1989), Rosa (1994), Claudette (2003), Ivan (2004), Rita (2005), Humberto (2007), Gustav and Ike (both in 2008), Isaac (2012), and Harvey (2017)—not to mention countless named Tropical Storms, tropical depressions, and other unnamed storms—have directly impacted the area now comprising the 14th Congressional District of Texas.
We are still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Harvey, where Texas 14 was “ground zero” for Harvey’s destruction. I am grateful we are finally sending relief to areas that have waited long enough, and I have not stopped fighting for the needed federal relief funding to get this nationally significant region back on its feet.
On Thursday, June 6, 2019, President Donald Trump signed H.R. 2157, the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019, into law. Included in the bill was legislation mandating that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) release several billion dollars owed to Texans still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.
Nearly two years ago, Hurricane Harvey left a path of destruction across Southeast Texas, and many Texans are still waiting for relief. The money released by this bill was appropriated over a year ago. In that time, unelected bureaucrats held up these funds with lollygagging and excuses. My colleagues and I would not stand for this. Thanks to legislation introduced by Senators John Cornyn and Joe Manchin, which Representative Lizzie Fletcher and I introduced in the House, families needing relief will finally receive it. Included in this law is our language directing OMB to release the $4.383 billion within the next 90 days. Though far too late and as yet another hurricane season starts, this funding will bring much needed relief to Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey.
Tropical Storm Imelda
Most recently, it was not a hurricane that walloped Texas-14, but a “lesser” event, Tropical Storm Imelda. Don’t let the designation fool you, though: Imelda, the fifth-wettest tropical cyclone on record in the continental U.S., wreaked an estimated $5 billion in damages.
On March 11, 2020, joined by Sens. Cornyn and Cruz and the entire Texas Congressional Delegation, I spearheaded a joint letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), expressing concern for Texas communities that suffered public infrastructure damage during Tropical Storm Imelda. The letter highlights the troublesome discrepancy between FEMA and local jurisdictions’ preliminary damage assessments. As stated in the letter, “FEMA certified these costs at approximately $18 million, far short of the $125 million in costs identified by local jurisdictions.”
FEMA is establishing a very dangerous precedent, if allowed to rely on unverified data while refusing to provide that information in their denial of PA declarations. There is no question that, after Harvey and the delay in reimbursements, these communities have legitimate need. There is also no question—as evidenced by the state’s findings of $125 million in damages—that the damages were significant enough to qualify for relief. If a federal agency can short-change us without providing their justification, we will experience significant problems when—not if—we are hit again.
Backed by taxpayers, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was created in 1968 to provide government insurance protection against flood risks for both homeowners and commercial businesses. Fifty years later, the federal program is a monopoly. With over $30 billion borrowed from taxpayers, it operates a $1.4 billion annual deficit and lacks the innovation expected of a company with $1.2 trillion of insurance coverage.
Once again, without further action on pending reform legislation, NFIP’s authority to provide flood insurance will expire on September 30, 2020. Since the end of FY2017, 15 short-term NFIP reauthorizations have been enacted. The NFIP was extended 17 times between 2008 and 2012, and it lapsed 4 times: March 1 to March 2, 2010; March 29 to April 15, 2010; June 1 to July 2, 2010; and October 1 to October 5, 2011. In most cases when the NFIP lapsed, Congress reauthorized the NFIP retroactively.
That said, we should not be lurching from one short-term fix to the next.
The House has already taken thoughtful and timely action in the past, to implement needed reforms and forestall any lapse in the program. On November 14, 2017, the House passed H.R. 2874, the 21st Century Flood Reform Act, with my support. It would reauthorize the NFIP for five years, introduce private market competition, and provide programmatic reform to help policyholders.
This legislation would have significantly reformed NFIP to ensure its long-term sustainability. Specifically, it included the following key provisions:
Given the NFIP’s vital importance to our district, I will continue to encourage my colleagues to take meaningful action on this time-sensitive issue when we reconvene. The Senate should take real action and pass reform measures soon. NFIP in its current form is unstainable, and we cannot afford to keep kicking this can down the road.
Coastal Barrier Protection System
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is working closely with the Texas General Land Office (GLO) to study the feasibility of constructing coastal storm risk management and ecosystem restoration (ER) projects along the Texas coast. This effort—the Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration Feasibility Study—has been variously referred to as the “Ike Dike,” after 2008’s Hurricane Ike, and the Coastal Spine, among other nicknames. On October 26, 2018, the study team released a Draft Report and Environmental Impact Statement detailing a Tentatively Selected Plan (TSP) that employs a "multiple lines of defense" strategy, combining structural, natural, nature-based, and non-structural measures to provide resilient, redundant, robust, and adaptable solutions that promote life safety based on local site conditions and societal values of the coastal community. In a comprehensive fashion, the TSP considers the risks posed by the combination of economic damage from coastal storm surge, inland shoreline erosion, Gulf shoreline erosion, loss of threatened and endangered critical habitats, and disrupted hydrology. The TSP proposes the restoration of ecosystems—including 160,000 acres of coastal habitats including marshes, beaches, islands, and lagoons up and down the Texas coast—to enhance coastal resilience system-wide. The TSP was open to public comment in late 2018 through February 2019, and it is now being further refined based on that feedback. To remain updated on developments regarding this project, you may wish to visit coastalstudy.texas.gov, the joint USACE-GLO website on the subject.For more information concerning my work and views related to Disaster Relief and Recovery, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you.