“You are not forgotten. We may not all live here in Texas but we’re neighbors, too. We’re Americans, too,” President Obama told the people of West nearly two months ago. “And we stand with you and we do not forget, and we’ll be there even after the cameras leave. And after the attention turns elsewhere. Your country will remain ever ready to help you recover and help rebuild and reclaim your community.”
Now that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has decided that West does not deserve major disaster aid, maybe the president wishes he had been a bit more circumspect.
In a June 10 letter to Gov. Rick Perry, FEMA said it reviewed the state’s appeal for help in rebuilding the small Central Texas town but decided that the explosion “is not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration.”
FEMA’s decision put Obama in an awkward spot — in Texas, at least — and his political foes were quick to capitalize.
“I was on the stage when the president looked into the eyes of the people of West, Texas, and said we’re going to do everything we can to make sure you are taken care of,” Perry told reporters. “This doesn’t square with that.”
Actually, it does. Even though we believe FEMA ought to reconsider, the fact remains that the explosion and subsequent loss of life, albeit devastating to a small Texas town, is not on a par with Hurricanes Katrina, Ike or, more recently, Sandy. And it’s not as if West were shut out.
FEMA said Texas will receive about $16.6 million under the emergency declaration Obama signed two days after the April 17 fertilizer-plant explosion.
FEMA and the Small Business Administration also have provided more than $7 million in grants and low-interest loans to West survivors. In addition, FEMA is paying 75 percent of the costs of debris removal.
FEMA officials said the request for additional funding was denied, because Texas couldn’t justify why the state itself can’t afford $17 million toward emergency response and cleanup. The federal agency often refuses that level of assistance for emergencies not stemming from a natural disaster.
The good people of West obviously need and deserve all the help they can get, and that’s why we’re pleased that Texas officials are appealing FEMA’s decision. If FEMA does not reconsider, we would hope that the president would exercise his authority to override, so that West would have access to funds that would be used for repairs to public roads and sewer lines and for rebuilding schools.
Meanwhile, the state needs to step up, perhaps by dipping into the rainy day fund. Ask the people of West, and they will tell you that April 17 was about as “rainy” as one could imagine.
As the governor himself once noted — in his 2010 book Fed Up — problems get solved more quickly and effectively “when the person facing the actual problem firsthand is the person making the decision — not some FEMA employee or bureaucrat at the Department of Defense thousands of miles away.”