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Gov. Perry Sends Letter to Sec. Chertoff; Outlines FEMA Shortcomings

Location: Austin, TX

Gov. Perry Sends Letter to Sec. Chertoff; Outlines FEMA Shortcomings

Today, Gov. Rick Perry sent the following letter to Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff outlining the difficulties Texas is experiencing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency:

November 1, 2005

The Honorable Michael Chertoff
Secretary of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

Dear Secretary Chertoff:

I appreciate our recent opportunity to have a candid discussion about the unique homeland security challenges facing our state. It is in that same spirit of candor that I write to you today concerning serious problems in Texas' recovery efforts following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. My concern is that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has engaged in inconsistent and disparate treatment of Texas on several important fronts. I am very concerned that state and local leaders are getting conflicting instructions from FEMA, that tens of thousands of Katrina evacuees will soon be evicted with no place to go, because of poor planning for long-term housing, that we have yet to receive information from FEMA identifying sex offenders and violent criminals among the Katrina evacuees, and that our victims of Rita are being treated differently from the Louisiana victims of Rita. As you know, natural disasters recognize no state boundaries, and neither should FEMA.

Last month, I asked FEMA to extend the federal government's agreement to pay 100 percent of costs for debris removal and emergency protective measures in affected Texas counties for another 60 days to allow sufficient time to clean up from the devastating effects of Hurricane Rita. FEMA denied this request, stating that "the severity and magnitude of the impacts did not warrant" an extension. That decision means Texas counties face paying 25 percent of the clean-up costs. I promptly appealed this decision in a letter to President Bush today that requested full reimbursement for a minimum of 30 additional days. I request your support of this common-sense appeal.

The rural counties of East Texas were shouldering a heavy burden from Hurricane Katrina when Rita made landfall. Rita was not an ordinary disaster because of the very fact that many Texas communities were inundated with the great human needs of Katrina evacuees when the second storm made landfall. The budgets of sparsely populated jurisdictions have limited flexibility, and these consecutive disasters have stretched them so thinly that funding for other basic services is affected.

Further, the original debris removal reimbursement structure was based on an Army Corps of Engineers estimate of debris amounts in affected counties; actual debris amounts exceed this estimate by more than 50 percent. At the same time Texas' extension was denied, however, FEMA approved a Louisiana request for a 30-day extension of its emergency declaration, agreeing to pay 90 percent of the costs for Louisianans. Texas should be afforded the same reimbursement structure as our Louisiana neighbors. In fact, inconsistent and shifting FEMA reimbursement policies for cities and counties create difficulties for local jurisdictions, and I urge you to comprehensively address this challenge.

I also want to urge you once again to enact a housing program that gives families and individuals displaced by Hurricane Katrina the leverage to secure a long-term residence in their home state of Louisiana, or the location of their choice. Texas has compassionately provided for the needs of more than 400,000 Katrina evacuees who sought refuge after the disaster. However, our communities cannot be expected to support such a large evacuee population on a long-term basis without substantial federal aid. Temporary housing solutions are beginning to create long-term problems for our state. The Texas Apartment Association is today announcing that the eviction of 15,000 people displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita is imminent, because no rent has been paid for three months or serious lease violations have occurred. An additional 50,000 evacuees could face eviction next month - and these figures only represent the segment of evacuees who chose apartments as their temporary home. The inability to provide evacuees with long-term stability is a crucial issue that the federal government must resolve quickly, because it poses significant issues for our communities concerning how to handle thousands of individuals who suddenly find themselves homeless once again.

Third, when we met earlier this month, it was my understanding that Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson denied extensions for FY04 and FY05 homeland security grants, but authorized a six-month extension for the FY03 grants that Texas had requested. However, in an October 21, 2005, letter to Texas Homeland Security Director Steve McCraw, the Office for Domestic Preparedness stated that FY03 grant extensions were contingent upon a detailed letter of justification and are not guaranteed for approval. While I understand that a case-by-case approach is better suited to FY04 and FY05 grant extensions, I request your full support of a blanket extension for FY03 grants in Texas. Without a grant extension, local jurisdictions will be delayed in achieving your national homeland security priorities that are critical for disaster response and recovery, including radio interoperability, information sharing and collaboration capabilities, and continuity of government.

Finally, FEMA's failure to swiftly assist Texas in identifying Katrina sex offenders and violent criminals, as well as parolees and probationers who are subject to supervision, continues to jeopardize the safety of Texans and other Katrina evacuees. It is essential that we do everything we can to identify criminal evacuees now residing in Texas. While I was pleased to learn on October 31 that the Security Division of FEMA has agreed to check the names of Louisiana sex offenders against the list of registered evacuees in our state, Texas made that request weeks earlier and had even supplied the names on October 16. We need this information provided to us in an expeditious manner to ensure the safety of the evacuee population and communities that have welcomed them. I look forward to the same cooperation in the near future when Texas requests a similar security check with the list of Louisiana parolees and offenders serving probations.

Again, I appreciate your time and request your expeditious assistance in resolving the issues I have outlined in this letter. If you need additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Rick Perry
Governor of Texas

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