President Joe Biden declared that a major disaster exists in the State of Texas and ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by severe winter storms beginning on February 11, 2021, and continuing. While the major disaster declaration was welcome news by Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the residents of his state, Abbott calls Biden’s declaration today just a “partial approval” and more aid is needed.
Last weekend, a severe winter storm dove into the Gulf Coast, bringing bitter cold and significant snow and ice to Texas and Louisiana. Ahead of the storm system, the National Weather Service issued Winter Storm Warnings and Watches for Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. For some in Texas, this was the first time they’ve been under a Winter Storm Watch or Warning for more than 10 years.
Ahead of the storm, Governor Abbott declared a statewide disaster declaration for every single county in the state. On February 12, in his disaster declaration, Abbott certified that “severe winter weather poses an imminent threat of widespread and severe property damage, injury, and loss of life due to prolonged freezing temperatures, heavy snow, and freezing rain statewide.” The disaster declaration was made in all 254 counties in the state.
On the following day, February 13, Governor Abbott announced that he would request a Federal Emergency Declaration from the White House to make resources available for communities impacted by the storm.
On February 14, the White House accepted the emergency declaration request made the prior day, declaring a Federal Emergency for Texas due to the storm. This Federal Emergency Declaration authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide emergency protective measures for mass care and sheltering and Direct Federal Assistance for all 254 counties in Texas. At the time, Governor Abbott said, “I thank President Biden for quickly issuing a Federal Emergency Declaration for Texas as we continue to respond to severe winter weather conditions throughout the state.”
Beyond the standard Federal Emergency Declaration, Abbott also requested that President Biden also approve a Major Disaster Declaration. On the evening of February 18, President Biden called Abbott to discuss the Major Disaster Declaration but decided not to pursue it at that time.
On Friday, February 19, Acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton asked the President to sign-off on the Major Disaster Declaration. A statement released by the White House last night said “the President let Acting Administrator Fenton know that through senior administration officials with the White House would continue to stay in close touch with FEMA, local officials, and organization providing direct relief to monitor the impacts of the storms as they move across the United States.”
With more public outcry for help, President Biden did sign-off on the Major Disaster Declaration, but only did so for 77 of Texas’s 254 counties. Biden’s sign-off grants Emergency Protective Measures for Public Assistance in all 254 counties, but only provides individual assistance in these 77 counties: Angelina, Aransas, Bastrop, Bee, Bell, Bexar, Blanco, Brazoria, Brazos, Brown, Burleson, Caldwell, Calhoun, Cameron, Chambers, Collin, Comal, Comanche, Cooke, Coryell, Dallas, Denton, DeWitt, Ellis, Falls, Fort Bend, Galveston, Gillespie, Grimes, Guadalupe, Hardin, Harris, Hays, Henderson, Hidalgo, Hood, Jasper, Jefferson, Johnson, Kaufman, Kendall, Lavaca, Liberty, Madison, Matagorda, Maverick, McLennan, Montague, Montgomery, Nacogdoches, Nueces, Orange, Palo Pinto, Panola, Parker, Polk, Rockwall, Sabine, San Jacinto, San Patricio, Scurry, Shelby, Smith, Stephens, Tarrant, Travis, Tyler, Upshur, Van Zandt, Victoria, Walker, Waller, Wharton, Wichita, Williamson, Wilson, and Wise Counties.
In a press release issued today after Biden’s partial approval, the Texas Governor thanked the White House. “I thank President Biden for his assistance as we respond to impacts of winter weather across our state,” said Governor Abbott. “While this partial approval is an important first step, Texas will continue to work with our federal partners to ensure all eligible Texans have access to the relief they need. The funds provided under the Major Disaster Declaration may provide crucial assistance to Texans as they begin to repair their homes and address property damage.”
The White House has not provided additional comment on the matter. The White House also hasn’t confirmed whether or not the President will visit Texas. With the storm long gone and most snow and ice melted away, the scene may not provide the White House team with visuals worthy of a media visit.
Individuals and business owners in counties included in the President’s declaration who sustained losses in the designated area can begin applying for assistance by registering online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-3362 or 1-800-462-7585