FINANCE COMMITTEE CONSIDERS COST OF HURRICANES
The Senate Finance committee held a meeting in the city of Beaumont, ground zero for the damage caused by the September landfall of Hurricane Rita, to gauge the economic impact of this year's unprecedented hurricane season on the state of Texas.
When Hurricane Katrina struck the Louisiana coastline before Labor Day, Texas welcomed hundreds of thousands of evacuees from the ravaged regions, while at the same time sending thousands of emergency responders into New Orleans and surrounding areas. Just two weeks later Texas had its own disaster, as Rita slammed into the coast near Port Arthur. Senator Tommy Williams, who represents much of the area that was affected by Rita, said that part of the state was nearly overwhelmed. "We really had a one-two punch here. We were the welcome mat for evacuees from Hurricane Katrina, and then just a few weeks after that, we faced devastation here like we have never seen," said Williams. He added that more than 17,000 homes in East Texas were rendered uninhabitable by the storm.
Jack Colley, State Coordinator of Emergency Management Services, testified before the committee that Texas responders brought the first out of state aid to New Orleans, arriving less than 24 hours after landfall. Texas sent 2,100 emergency workers, along with equipment and supplies, into Louisiana to aid in rescue and recovery efforts. Texas responders conducted more than 240,000 rescues in New Orleans. Once it became clear that Hurricane Rita would make landfall along the Texas coast two weeks later, these responders were redeployed back to Texas. State and local agencies were able to successfully coordinate the evacuation of the upper coastline, getting nearly everyone, including some 40,000 Louisiana evacuees who had taken shelter in Houston and surrounding areas, out of harm's way.
Texas bore significant economic cost, not just from the direct damage caused by Rita, but also from aid given to Louisiana evacuees, including rescue operations in affected areas, and shelter and care given to residents who fled to Texas. Steve McCraw, Director of Homeland Security for the state, testified that more that 427,000 Louisianans came to Texas following Hurricane Katrina, and that many of them are still here. This includes about 45,000 school age children that are currently attending Texas schools.
According to John O'Brien, Deputy Director of the Legislative Budget Board (LBB), the cost to state government from both hurricanes was nearly $1.4 billion, with costs from Katrina accounting for 80 percent of that amount. The cost to the public education budget, with the influx of thousands of students from Louisiana, is $229.9 million.
The federal government has promised some reimbursement to the state for the money paid in hurricane relief efforts. The LBB expects that $51.8 million will be provided to certain agencies, including the Texas Education Agency and the Texas State University system. There are also two budget reconciliation bills being considered by Congress to pay for 100 percent of Medicaid services provided to evacuees through May 15, 2006.