Texas Needs All the Resources It Can Get to Fight COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented disaster in scope and scale. America’s disaster response and recovery system is designed to deal with localized disasters and assumes that people have the resources to recover quickly. COVID-19 is a nationwide disaster that has been ongoing for months, with an economic impact that has stripped millions of Americans of the resources to pay rent and buy food.
Many Texans are all too familiar with major disasters and FEMA response, and are still struggling to recover from disasters like Hurricane Harvey. However, this is the first time a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration has ever been issued for a public health emergency and not a natural or man-made disaster that causes physical damage to housing and infrastructure, and there is uncertainty at the state, local and federal levels about how a system designed for localized, physically destructive disasters can be used to address a nationwide pandemic with long-term social and economic consequences.
A Major Disaster Declaration under the Stafford Act was issued for Texas on March 25, 2020, that will reimburse the state for “emergency protective measures” including emergency medical care, temporary medical facilities, supplies, and medical sheltering to ensure that people without housing can safely self-isolate, and provide funding for crisis counseling. However, there are additional programs and assistance available under the Stafford Act including:
- Disaster Unemployment Assistance;
- Other Needs Assistance for medical, dental, and funeral expenses as well as other serious needs;
- Food assistance;
- Disaster Legal Services; and
- Community Loans for local governments who have lost tax revenue and risk not being able to carry out regular governmental activities.
These programs need to be requested by the Governor and added to the current disaster declaration.
The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on Texas has multiplied exponentially since Governor Abbott requested a Major Disaster Declaration on March 23, 2020. Not only have cases of COVID-19 and resulting deaths increased, but millions of Texans have lost their jobs, are going to food banks for the first time, and are at risk of losing their housing and businesses. While the final decision is up to FEMA and the President, Texas Appleseed is asking Governor Abbott to expand his disaster declaration request to include the full range of programs available under the Stafford Act.
The reality is that disasters do not affect everyone equally. The American disaster recovery system was designed for households with insurance and other resources who just needed temporary help, and not for Americans who were already struggling. We can clearly see the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having on Black and Brown communities, on low-wage frontline workers who have been deemed “essential” or have to choose between their health and keeping food on the table, and people who are homeless. As unemployment grows, more and more Texans will find themselves struggling to survive and get the resources they need to stay healthy. It is particularly urgent in the COVID-19 pandemic, when lack of access to housing and medical care for vulnerable populations is critical to protecting the health of everyone, that Texas have as may resources as possible to prevent the virus from spreading and to help Texans recovery.