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Additional 31 Texas counties included in federal major disaster declaration

Following Monday’s additions, Texans in 108 counties are now eligible to apply for individual aid for property damage from the winter storms.

AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that 31 additional Texas counties have been approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be added to President Joe Biden’s major disaster declaration, bringing the number of counties where Texans are eligible to apply for individual assistance to 108.

“I thank FEMA for their swift approval of these additional counties and for their continued partnership as we ensure Texans have access to relief following the winter storm,” Abbott said in a news release. “I urge Texans to use the Texas Individual Assistance Reporting Tool so that the state can continue to identify damages and fight for the crucial assistance that our communities need.”

The governor’s initial request last week included the entire state, but only 77 of Texas’ 254 counties were covered when Biden declared a major disaster for the state Friday night.

The initial declaration signed late Friday included the counties home to Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin, but it left out 177 others. That number dropped to 146 with the latest additions, though Abbott said more counties will continue to be requested as the state receives further information.

The counties now included are: Anderson, Austin, Bosque, Bowie, Burnet, Cherokee, Colorado, Erath, Fannin, Freestone, Gonzales, Grayson, Gregg, Harrison, Hill, Houston, Hunt, Jackson, Jim Wells, Jones, Limestone, Lubbock, Medina, Milam, Navarro, Rusk, Taylor, Tom Green, Val Verde, Washington, Wood

A push from Texas lawmakers ensued after Friday’s declaration. Following separate letters to Biden from Texas Republicans and Democrats, 27 Texans in Congress wrote a bipartisan letter Monday, urging the president to include the entire state as Texas recovers from a week of massive power outages from last week’s winter storm.

“Although the initial effects of this unprecedented winter storm are beginning to dissipate, the entire state continues to reel from the aftermath that has left millions without power, potable water, and dwindled food supplies,” the letter said. “These continued challenges are impacting Texans from all backgrounds and ways of life.”

The continued delay of FEMA’s assistance to all 254 counties in Texas will “only prolong the suffering of millions of Americans,” the letter said, as they respectfully requested that Biden “expeditiously approve” federal assistance for all of Texas.

Before the latest additions, the White House offered assurance Monday afternoon that the approval for the initial 77 counties was only the first step.

“We expect more counties to be added as more work is done to evaluate it, and that’s a reflection of FEMA’s initial evaluation,” press secretary Jen Psaki said. “In the meantime, the president has asked FEMA to do everything it can to rapidly distribute aid to the state of Texas.”

Psaki added that over 1 million meals and more than 4 million liters of water have been shipped to Texas.

Texas has also received 69 emergency generators and more than 120,000 blankets.

Over the weekend, Homeland Security adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall and Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, called Abbott to provide an update on federal efforts in Texas, Psaki added.

In thanking Biden for his assistance Saturday morning, Abbott said, “While this partial approval is an important first step, Texas will continue to work with our federal partners to ensure all eligible Texans have access to the relief they need.”

White House officials indicated they were open to that after the declaration was signed Friday night, saying, “Additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments.”

In order to add the remaining counties to the designation, the state will have to gather and provide information containing the damage from every county, Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd said during a Saturday news conference in Austin.

“We do want all 254 counties added,” Kidd said. “We will have to show county by county, dollar by dollar. I don’t think we will have a county that doesn’t meet this threshold.”

Texas officials are asking Texans to complete a damage survey online at TDEM.Texas.gov/warm to help with the effort.

The letter from Texans in Congress also noted the projected losses from last week’s storm as the water crisis boiled over into this week, citing current estimates in excess of $62 million.

As reported last week, insurance industry officials warn that the winter storm has the potential to be the costliest weather event in Texas history, and could bring more in insurance claims than the $19 billion in damage reported from Hurricane Harvey.

“Given the magnitude, severity, and duration of the historic winter storm, it is assured the actual damage will far surpass the resources of our local communities,” the letter said.

This letter comes after Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz wrote Biden on Friday with the same message: “We urge you to grant this request to secure the health and safety of all Texans affected by this disaster.”

An additional letter came Friday from 18 of 23 Texas Republicans in the U.S. House along with Rep. Al Green, who also signed a letter with 12 other Democrats.

Biden said at the White House Friday that he hopes to make a trip to Texas sometime this week and Psaki reiterated Monday that is still the goal, though no specifics have been announced. She noted presidential visits can be disruptive, given the security.

Alex Briseno. Alex Briseño is covering politics in Austin for The Dallas Morning News. He was born in Seguin, Texas, and is a recent graduate from the University of Texas at Austin. During his time at UT, Alex interned at Sports Illustrated, freelanced for newspapers across the state and spent four years at the student newspaper, The Daily Texan.

alex.briseno@dallasnews.com @alex__briseno

Todd J. Gillman. Todd became Washington Bureau Chief in 2009 and has covered East Texas, Dallas City Hall and politics since joining The News in 1989. He's been elected three times to the White House Correspondents’ Association board, with a term ending in 2023. Todd has a Master in Public Policy from Harvard and a BA from Johns Hopkins in international studies.

tgillman@dallasnews.com @toddgillman
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