USA — It is beyond us why the Federal Emergency Management Agency won’t declare wildfire-ravaged Texas as a major disaster area. It leaves us asking the question of what does it take to get on this elusive list?
Apparently the tornado-ravaged South managed to make the list, but Texas somehow doesn’t measure up. We surely hope this jostling doesn’t have anything to do with the ongoing feud between Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the Obama administration. If that is the case, that dispute needs to end now.
Of course, we never would compare the plight of Texas to that suffered in eight southern states, particularly Alabama. That region saw 10,000 homes destroyed and the loss of more than 350 lives in what has been described as the worst natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
However, the damage whipped on Texas by raging wildfires has been significant, and we are alarmed at how little interest FEMA agents have shown in coming to the aid of Texas in this time of need.
FEMA has helped in a mere 25 fire management assistance grants. These grants help reimburse 75 percent of the state’s cost for equipment, firefighters’ meals and other emergency work.
Yet, Texas has had nearly 9,000 wildfires, covering 2.2 million acres since November. More than 1,700 homes and other structures have been destroyed by the fires, according to data from the Texas Forest Service. Two volunteer firefighters have died battling the flames. More than 50 deaths across the state have been attributed to the wildfires.
It now appears lives and property have less value on the national scale when it gets caught in a budget squeeze. We can even live with that, but we can’t condone politics playing into relief efforts caused by natural disasters. We think 2.2 million acres of destruction is significant. The entire state of Rhode Island contains only 776,957 acres.
Considering these statistics, FEMA’s refusal to give aid smacks of politics. If this is indeed retribution for Texas’ past political stances, it is reprehensible and unacceptable. The livelihoods of thousands of citizens depends on the response by the federal and state governments. It should be a shared duty because Texans, too, pay federal income taxes.
Perry asked the federal government for a major disaster declaration and $70 million in funding, with state and local governments assuming all applicable nonfederal costs, estimated to total about $17.5 million.
We just want politics out of the decision making when it comes to relief efforts. There is more than enough damage to consider in Texas for additional FEMA assistance efforts. It is the federal government’s responsibility under law to help its citizens in times of emergency. Texas should push on this matter to protect the rights of the state’s citizens.