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Sen. Hutchison seeks expedited assistance for Texas

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX –

Already having filed legislation to reduce bureaucratic red tape for Hurricane Katrina evacuees seeking government assistance in other states and to ensure 100 percent federal reimbursement for Texas' enrollment of evacuees in the Texas Medicaid system, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) today asked fellow members of the U.S. Senate to reimburse educational costs for states enrolling evacuee schoolchildren in their public school systems.

Hutchison said the educational costs to states taking in evacuee schoolchildren from Louisiana and Mississippi should be reimbursed by the federal government. She said if the federal government does not expedite reimbursement to the states for those expenditures, it could make other states hesitant in the future to offer assistance to people in need.

At the end of last week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry's office reported that 21,000 evacuated schoolchildren had enrolled in the Texas public schools. The Texas Education Agency set up a toll-free number for Louisiana teachers seeking teaching opportunities in Texas and the State Board for Educator Certification created a one-year emergency teaching certificate to help school districts cope with enrollment surge in Texas schools because of Hurricane Katrina evacuees. Word then came from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that the state would not be reimbursed for the hiring of additional teachers or the purchase of additional textbooks as classroom sizes increased due to evacuees.

In a statement on the Senate floor today, Hutchison noted she has visited several hurricane relief centers in her home state of Texas in the last couple of weeks - from the Astrodome in Houston to the Austin Convention Center, which she toured last weekend with Vice President Dick Cheney.

In Houston, Hutchison said she was particularly amazed by the medical community in Houston, the Texas city where the bulk of the approximately 250,000 evacuees into Texas were being housed. She cited "complicated medical procedures" that were ongoing to ensure continuity of medical procedures for out-of-state evacuees. "There were medical units that had the cooperation of all the hospitals in Houston. It was truly a remarkable sight." Hutchison cited similar activities at medical facilities in Dallas that served evacuees there - including mental health services, emergency services, services for ill children, and the dispensing of medicine on an as-needed basis. She also noted the many volunteer organizations on hand to provide services at the evacuation center in Austin. Hutchison said that although Texas was not affected directly by the hurricane, "It has had an emergency crisis of its own, and that is in the education that is now being required for the children coming into the school systems and trying to get help for the ongoing medical needs that will be required for approximately 250,000 evacuees from Louisiana, and a few from Mississippi, and try to make sure that these costs are covered by the federal government."

Noting that Texans have opened their hearts, homes and schools to the evacuees, Hutchison said she does not think the state should have to fund all of the costs from state and local coffers. "Quite frankly, the local schools are already very strapped for funds and they cannot afford this," said the Texas Republican. She said local government entities, too, are spending huge sums for relief efforts, from overtime costs for law enforcement to emergency medical services expenses.

The Texas senator said she is working on legislation that would get money to these entities quickly and asked that Congress expedite passage of the legislation.

"There are at this time between 30,000 and 40,000 new students coming into the Texas school systems. This is a huge amount of increase in a very short time frame, and trying to match the students with the kind of curriculum that has been ongoing in the Texas schools is a challenge."

Hutchison pointed out that there is no FEMA money for education expenses. She said her bill would allow FEMA, through the Department of Education, to immediately start reimbursing the schools for the costs related to schooling of the hurricane evacuees - from temporary facilities that are being required, to schoolbooks and school supplies that are being required to help these students.

"This legislation will sunset at the end of this school year," said Hutchison, "so it will not be permanent. But I hope we can pass it on an expedited basis. My state has been so generous and offered so much help to these people, which we want to continue to do, we will continue to do. But I want the federal government to make it easier on these governmental expenses on the communities that are doing so much. "We want this to be the model for the response for future emergencies, not one where other states look at what has happened in our state and say, well, if the federal government isn't going to step up on education expenses and medical care, then it will be difficult to take other future emergency victims in. So that is what we're trying to do."

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