COLUMN: 15 disaster-stricken counties to receive federal aid

Staff Writer
Glen Rose Reporter

AUSTIN — President Barack Obama on Nov. 25 ordered federal disaster aid to supplement Texas state and local recovery efforts in the area affected by severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds and flooding during the period of Oct. 22-31.

President Obama’s action makes federal funding available to affected individuals in the counties of Bastrop, Brazoria, Caldwell, Comal, Galveston, Guadalupe, Hardin, Harris, Hays, Hidalgo, Liberty, Navarro, Travis, Willacy and Wilson.

Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide, according to the White House.

The disaster declaration came in response to a Nov. 20 request by Gov. Greg Abbott. “I want to thank the President and FEMA for their swift response to Texas’ request for a federal disaster declaration,” Abbott said on Nov. 25. “Texas looks forward to working with its FEMA partners to ensure those in need receive the assistance necessary to start rebuilding their lives.”

Governor travels to Havana

Gov. Abbott on Nov. 24 announced his plan to lead a delegation to Havana, Cuba to participate in meetings and events focusing on travel, trade and exports from Nov. 30 through Dec. 2.

Abbott said he would meet with Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment, Port of Mariel, the Cuban Export-Import Corporation, Cuba Chamber of Commerce, Alimport (Cuba’s food import-export company), and various economic institutions. This is the governor’s second international business development trip since taking office. The first was a trip to Mexico City in September.

“With a new era of eased trade and travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba, and as the 12th largest economy in the world, Texas has an opportunity to capitalize and expand its economic footprint at home and abroad.

“Opening the door to business with Texas will expand free enterprise and the freedom that flows from it. I look forward to expanding business opportunities for both Texas and Cuba,” Abbott said.

Planned Parenthood files suit

Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas and 10 patient co-plaintiffs on Nov. 23 filed suit against the state of Texas, saying the action was brought “in order to protect care for more than 13,000 patients whose access to HIV screening, cancer screenings, birth control, and other preventive care at Planned Parenthood is at risk.”

The Office of the Governor on Oct. 19 announced that federal Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood and its Texas affiliates would be terminated, in coordination with a letter issued by the Office of Inspector General at Texas Health and Human Services Commission to Planned Parenthood.

Highway fund gets infusion

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Nov. 24 announced the transfer of $2.27 billion into the State Highway Fund and the Economic Stabilization Fund commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund. Each fund received more than $1.13 billion, or 50 percent of the total transfer.

According to the announcement, the transfer amounts are based on whether oil production and natural gas production tax revenues exceed 1987 collections. If either tax is greater than the 1987 threshold, an amount equal to 75 percent of the excess is transferred.

In November 2014, Texas voters approved an amendment to the state constitution allocating at least one-half of these severance taxes to the rainy day fund and the remainder to the State Highway Fund for use on non-toll highway construction, maintenance and right-of-way acquisition.

Texas job growth continues

Texas Workforce Commission on Nov. 23 announced that Texas employers added 20,000 seasonally adjusted non-farm jobs in October, marking the eighth month of 2015 with jobs added.

The state’s job increases have yielded a 1.7 percent annual growth rate continuing its string of positive annual growth for 66 consecutive months.

“Texas employers continue to contribute to the Texas economy by adding jobs, including 203,900 over the past year,” said TWC Chairman Andres Alcantar.

Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased to 4.4 percent in October, up from 4.2 percent in September, and remained below the national average of 5.0 percent.