The first day it began raining, the rain pelted my home, sounding in a ferocious and unrelenting roar. Houstonians are accustomed to heavy rains, but by the second day, the shaking of the trees and shuddering of the windows worsened.
The water started to creep, like a predator, closer to the street curb. I didn’t sleep that night, or the night after, or two nights following. There was no end in sight, and it led to an immeasurable fear that the flood water would drown our world–for some families, it did.
My family was lucky. I thought that even as I was putting life vests on my sons, and waded through the waters to place them on the rescue boats of some Good Samaritans.
Disaster floods like Hurricane Harvey don’t discriminate. We are all equal in the eye of the storm, and Houston has certainly not been the only victim. In June of this past year, the Rio Grande Valley endured an extreme rain event that caused extensive damage. The 500-year flood event caused over 18 inches of rainfall in a 24-hour period. Due to the lack of flood mitigation and disaster response infrastructure, the Valley was flooded for weeks. Children the same age as my boys had to be rescued and evacuated; families across the Valley were in a state of devastation.
We, as a state, must become more resilient to these catastrophic events, and my colleagues and I in the Texas House passed several bills on April 11 to not just rebuild Texas, but to rebuild Texas stronger. Three of those bills were mine: HB 2330, HB 2335, and HB 2345. They seek to not only provide much need disaster response services, but also to make Texas a state that will no longer be held hostage by a lack of flood response and research infrastructure.
House Bill 2330 attempts to improve disaster case management by streamlining applications for multiple state and federal relief programs, and by speeding up implementation of long-term case management services. Better case management helps survivors navigate the requirements for private and public recovery programs. In the case of Hurricane Harvey, some services were not available until about nine months after Hurricane Harvey’s landfall. Being able to address individual needs in the days and weeks immediately after a disaster is essential to facilitate the speedy recovery of those affected communities.
House Bill 2335 instructs the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to work with local entities to make D-SNAP benefits more accessible. D-SNAP, a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program, provides food assistance to low-income households suffering losses caused by a natural disaster. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, HHSC had difficulty finding a sufficient number of sites large enough to accommodate the thousands of anticipated D-SNAP applicants, causing costly delays and disorganization.
House Bill 2345 most notably creates the Institute for a Disaster Resilient Texas within the Texas A&M University System to help plan for and develop important disaster mitigation projects. Texas has a critical need for an institute that will develop evidence-based solutions for evolving storm and disaster-related problems. Learning about coastal and inland flood issues, storm-related wind impacts and other issues is imperative in helping Texas prepare for future extreme weather events.
Hurricane Harvey was a horrific wakeup call for the state of Texas. The chinks in our armor were fully exposed, but this session, we made a commitment to create a more resilient Texas. The months following Hurricane Harvey were some of the most difficult in our state’s recent memory and these bills create programs to address the issues identified at that time. We, in the Texas Legislature, are attempting to pass bills that will provide all Texans the resources and ability to cope when traumatic weather events like Hurricane Harvey and the June floods occur.
Editor’s Note: The above guest column by State Representative Armando Walle of Houston is part of a series of op-eds by members of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. The series will run for the duration of the 86th Legislative Session. Rep. Walle can be reached via [email protected]