Hurricane Harvey inflicted a tragedy. Since August 25th, when the storm first hit Texas, the lives and well-being of hundreds of thousands of Texans have been jeopardized.
The human cost is overwhelming. Colette Sulcer was carrying her three-year-old daughter, Jordyn Grace, when the pair encountered floodwater. Sulcer lost her life to the flood, but somehow managed to save her daughter, who clung to her mother’s body and was later rescued. Jordyn told family members that “Mama was saying her prayers.”
The harrowing tales continue: Two grandparents and their four grandchildren were found in a submerged van. A clockmaker drowned while trying to save his clocks. A police sergeant, Sgt. Steve Perez, lost his life while driving to work to save others.
A look at data underscores how incredibly urgent this situation is. Here’s what we know so far:
- 45 people have been confirmed dead as of June 3rd.
- 20 trillion gallons of water – the equivalent of five decades of New York City’s water consumption – has fallen over Texas and Louisiana.
- According to Texas’s governor, over $125 billion from the Federal Government will be needed for relief (Consider that Texas’ total FY16-17 state budget was about $209.4 billion)
- 185,149 homes were damaged (as of Friday) and roughly 40,000 were destroyed. 80% of Texans do not have flood insurance.
- 1 million people have been forced to flee their homes, and 42,399 are in shelters (as of Friday).
- Over 364,000 people registered for FEMA assistance.
- Millions of cars have been wrecked beyond repair, which is devastating for a city where residents rely on driving: According to the executive director of Transportation Advocacy Group Houston, “You really have to have a car if you’re in Houston.” Furthermore, around 15% of Texans lack car insurance, which means that about 100,000 people will have to pay for a new car with their own money.
Some have noted that Texas representatives voted against hurricane relief aid to states devastated by Hurricane Sandy, and suggest others should now do the same to Texas. However, we must must instead look for unity, and come together as Americans for the people of Texas. No state can anticipate and protect itself against all disasters, and the wellbeing of the residents of Texas is inextricable from our national shared interest. We must encourage our congressional leaders to be stateswomen and men, and move past our political differences in order to help our fellow Americans. This is leading by example; a strong demonstration of mutual support and an expression of value for the lives of those affected by Harvey will remind all that we are better off when we work together.
We must have empathy for the thousands of people who have lost everything. It will take years to rebuild destroyed roads and homes. According to the administrator of Federal Emergency Management Agency, “The state of Texas is about to undergo one of the largest recovery housing missions the nation has ever seen.”
Right now, authorities are appropriately focused on emergency response. Soon, however, they will have to turn to the longer and harder tasks of recovery and reconstruction. Where we can help– and what we can fairly request– is that reconstruction be done with an eye to reducing risk and anticipating repeat events like Harvey.
Climate science suggests we would be wise to anticipate more frequent storms. Remember that many of the Texas victims are refugees from New Orleans, who still have not returned after being displaced by Katrina. Texas and the federal authorities owe it to future generations of Texans to ensure that any reconstruction is done in ways that reduce risk and ensure greater resilience in future storms. They owe this to our citizens– it is the only way to reduce future loss of life and property. In particular, we owe this to children like Jordyn, who may not vote for many years, but who’s reality has been forever altered.
The problem is, the US doesn’t have the funds to fulfill the federal government’s obligations. The US imposes a debt limit, or a cap to the amount of money that can be borrowed by the United States. The Treasury may borrow money up to this limit. At times, however, the Treasury requires more flexibility, and it asks Congress to raise the ceiling. This has happened 78 times since 1960, according to CBS News.
The US has already reached its limit, making it difficult for the Federal Government to pull together disaster relief money for Houston. If the debt ceiling is not raised, Congress will be forced to cut programs such as Social Security and healthcare in order to provide for Texas. Instead of taking money from services which help underprivileged citizens of this country, we must stand with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who has stated that the ceiling must be raised by Congress before September 29. Raising the debt ceiling is not abnormal, and it is necessary if we are to provide immediate aid to Houston’s struggling population.
We hope that you will join us in fighting for Houston. This is not a week for partisan divides. This is a week for unity.
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If you need more information on the debt ceiling, we recommend that you read these articles: