STATE CAPITAL HIGHLIGHTS

Hurricane recovery continues with extension of disaster declaration

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AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott on Nov. 20 extended the disaster declaration for counties affected by Hurricane Harvey. 

Some 60 counties are included and they will continue to be eligible for assistance as they recover and rebuild.

“The most important message I want to send to the victims of this storm is that they are not alone as they continue to recover from this storm. While we still have a long way to go to return to a new normal, I have no doubt that Texas will eventually emerge from this disaster stronger than ever before,” Abbott said.

Declarations must be renewed every 30 days for assistance to remain available. Gov. Abbott said he would continue to renew them as needed throughout the recovery process.

Counties covered in the disaster declaration include: Angelina, Aransas, Atascosa, Austin, Bastrop, Bee, Bexar, Brazoria, Brazos, Burleson, Caldwell, Calhoun, Cameron, Chambers, Colorado, Comal, DeWitt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Gonzales, Grimes, Guadalupe, Hardin, Harris, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Jim Wells, Karnes, Kerr, Kleberg, Lavaca, Lee, Leon, Liberty, Live Oak, Madison, Matagorda, Milam, Montgomery, Newton, Nueces, Orange, Polk, Refugio, Sabine, San Patricio, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Trinity, Tyler, Victoria, Walker, Wailer, Washington, Wharton, Willacy and Wilson.

Aid request is granted

On Nov. 17 Abbott announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency granted his request to extend the deadline to Jan. 16 for Transitional Sheltering Assistance for victims of Hurricane Harvey. Nearly 17,000 families are receiving this form of assistance, which is intended to help those who have been unable to return to their homes find short-term shelter in hotels or other temporary housing locations. Abbott said he remains “committed to doing everything possible to get these families back under their own roofs.”

HUD funds committed

In other hurricane-recovery news, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Nov. 17 awarded $5 billion through a community development block grant program supporting the repair of damaged homes, businesses and critical infrastructure. 

HUD Secretary Ben Carson said the agency would work with Abbott and his staff  “to do whatever is needed to rebuild damaged homes and to restore shuttered businesses in some of the hardest-hit areas of the State.”

U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz acknowledged the importance of federal disaster aid to Texans who are continuing to suffer as a result of Hurricane Harvey and expressed support for the programs. 

In September, President Trump signed legislation securing $7.4 billion in funding for Harvey and major disasters, such as Hurricane Irma (Florida), Hurricane Maria (Puerto Rico) and the California wildfires.

Court blocks new law

Austin U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, in a Nov. 22 ruling, granted permanent injunctive relief to abortion providers who have been trying to prevent enforcement of a law passed last spring by the Texas Legislature.

The law would require a provider to perform an additional procedure to ensure fetal demise before continuing a dilation and evacuation abortion. Yeakel, in finding for the plaintiffs, said the additional procedure, which involves a lethal injection to a fetus in the second trimester, would be invasive, risky and medically unnecessary.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the state would fight the injunction in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Job growth continues

The Texas Workforce Commission on Nov. 17 reported that the state’s economy added 71,500 seasonally adjusted nonfarm jobs in October while annual employment growth was 2.6 percent for the month, marking 90 consecutive months of annual growth. 

The agency also touted Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, which fell to 3.9 percent and set a record for the lowest unemployment rate recorded in four decades.

Notably, the agency pointed out, the leisure and hospitality employment category rebounded by adding 34,700 jobs in October after experiencing its largest monthly decline in September due to hurricane-affected business closures. Also, in 2017 to date, leisure and hospitality has gained 41,000 jobs, while trade, transportation and utilities employment grew by 10,300 jobs, and professional and business services expanded by 6,300 jobs.

The Amarillo and Midland Metropolitan Statistical Areas recorded the month’s lowest unemployment rate among Texas MSAs with a non-seasonally adjusted rate of 2.4 percent, followed by the College Station-Bryan MSA with a rate of 2.5 percent. The Austin-Round Rock and Lubbock MSAs registered a rate of 2.6 percent for October, Texas Workforce Commission reported.


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