Hutchison, Cornyn ask Bush for assistance for Texas
Austin, TX –
U.S. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and John Cornyn (R-TX) today sent the following letter to President Bush outlining Texas' needs in support of the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. The letter, and supporting material, follows:
September 8, 2005
Dear Mr. President:
Texas and other states are struggling to provide desperately needed services and support for victims of the Katrina tragedy. We have been working with state and local officials to identify areas of concern that are hampering their efforts to most effectively provide help to the more than 250,000 victims of this disaster who are in Texas. Based on their comments, we have identified several actions that we, at the federal level, can take to better support their relief efforts.
First, we ask that you include specific and substantial funding for education and healthcare expenses being incurred by state and local officials in the next emergency supplemental appropriations request. The cost of providing support for evacuees is quickly draining local resources and will soon disrupt their ability to provide for both our own citizens as well as the evacuees.
Second, we have attached a list of issues local officials have identified as hindering their ability to provide services. These corrections require legislative action to remove red tape and increase efficiency in this relief effort.
We look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure the communities on the front line of relief efforts for the victims of this tragedy receive the support they need.
Thank you for your attention to this issue.
Kay Bailey Hutchison
LEGISLATIVE CORRECTIONS FOR HURRICANE KATRINA RELIEF
More than 250,000 Katrina evacuees are in Texas at this time. As many as 100,000 evacuees are registered in shelters dispersed across the state, and FEMA officials estimate another 150,000 Katrina victims are living in hotels in Texas. The state has provided fast, effective services to evacuees to date, but the cost of these services are staggering and are quickly swamping local capabilities. Below are specific legislative changes that are needed to ensure the state and local governments are adequately reimbursed for costs associated with supporting Katrina evacuees.
As of September 6, 2005, the State of Texas expects to enroll 25,000-60,000 evacuee-students into the Texas public school system. An estimated cost of $7,500 a year per student is anticipated. Legislative changes that are needed include:
- Temporarily waiving the application process for free and reduced price lunches, so evacuee-students can immediately receive the benefits of these programs.
- Amend the definition of costs which can be reimbursed by FEMA to ensure all education expenses for evacuee-students are covered; or direct supplemental appropriations to the Department of Education to distribute directly to school districts.
- Relax some NCLB requirements, such as requirements for annual yearly progress and performance standards, for schools that have a substantial increase of children from other school districts and states with other curricula.
- Relax requirements for "highly qualified" teachers in order to enable school districts with a sudden flood of new evacuee-students to hire sufficient staff.
- Relax certain McKinney Act restrictions as they relate to the evacuee-students in order to give school districts more flexibility to place them in schools.
The US Department of Health and Human Services has indicated it will allow Texas to enroll evacuees in their Medicaid program, but only if the State pays the required match (the state would have to pay about 40 cents on the dollar), which could cost Texas about $20-30 million per month (based on an estimated population of only 200,000 evacuees). In order to serve this population, the following changes are needed:
- Fully reimburse the state for 100% of Medicaid costs for evacuees.
- Enroll evacuees into the Texas Medicaid program with full federal reimbursement.
- Waive current state eligibility criteria to allow coverage for all evacuees for a limited amount of time.
Texas has registered more than 100,000 evacuees. Many communities have identified federal road blocks and red tape hindering their ability to provide services to these evacuees. Below are suggestions for legislative changes to alleviate some of these problems:
- Allow communities the flexibility to purchase needed equipment instead of renting it (which can cost more over time) and set a higher threshold for what is considered a "major purchase."
- Allow communities to be reimbursed for buying supplies, such as linens, to be distributed to individuals, rather than only reimbursing those expenses incurred by the individuals themselves.
- Many of the facilities being used to house evacuees are ongoing business operations which had to cancel revenue raising activities in order to provide shelter for evacuees. FEMA should reimburse for the costs of business interruption at these facilities.
- The state of Texas has temporarily waived the hotel tax in order to ease the cost for evacuees staying in hotels. Such a tax paid by evacuees would be reimbursable by FEMA. Clarify rules so FEMA can reimburse states and localities for any revenue lost from taxes that are waived.
- Provide funding and reimbursements directly to the communities bearing the costs, rather than flowing funds through multiple layers of government or bureaucracy.
- Broaden the definition of what expenses for shelters are reimbursable by FEMA. For example, in order to provide police officers for security at shelters, some cities must have other police officers work overtime to fill the resulting gaps; the overtime costs of those officers not at the shelters but working overtime as a result of it should be reimbursable.
More news links and relief effort resources from KERA
More coverage of the health care crisis in Texas on KERA's Life in the Balance page