U.S. Rep. Randy Weber was in Dickinson on Saturday meeting with residents of the flood-devastated community and taking questions about the recovery process and Congress’ return to session.
The Friendswood Republican, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Association met with about 20 residents, who asked questions about a wide range of issues, from flood-related topics to immigration. Agency representatives worked with individuals on specific questions about registering and seeking aid.
“Our district — District 14 — is arguably ground zero for flooding in Harvey,” Weber said. “Right now, this disaster is my No. 1 priority.”
Weber had been on a tour of flood-ravaged communities in Brazoria, Galveston and Jefferson counties, he said.
On Saturday morning, Weber hosted a “Kolaches with a Congressman” in Jefferson County. Saturday afternoon, he hosted “Cookies with the Congressman” at Dickinson City Hall on state Highway 3.
“We saw peoples’ lives out on full display: drapes, portraits and family pictures,” Weber said. “It tugs at your heartstrings.”
Congress has approved $15 billion for Harvey relief, which Weber called a “drop in the bucket” of total likely aid needed for disaster relief.
A resident asked where Congress would come up with more than $200 billion for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma at the same time lawmakers are pushing for tax breaks for top income earners and across the board.
Lawmakers were still trying to get an accurate number for the amount of damage during the storms, Weber said. Funding for hurricane relief might be met by cutting from other parts of the budget, but Weber did not specify or discuss where those cuts might be made.
“The number is not in,” Weber said. “Generally, you look around to cut somewhere else, that discussion will be had.”
Other residents aired frustrations with the city’s drainage ditch management and environmental concerns about sewage running into Galveston Bay. Weber directed people to get in touch with his staff to assist in the matter.
One north county resident questioned Weber’s support for a bill that would eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, which could regulate and mitigate some of those environmental concerns, the resident said.
Weber had signed onto the letter supporting the termination of the agency “to get their attention and say ‘you got to do things better,’” he said. Weber pointed to the state’s environmental agency and its effectiveness at handling issues as an example of how local control can work better.
But a resident countered the state agency hadn’t been effective in another resident’s drainage issues. Weber said he could contact a commissioner there and ask the issue be looked into.
It shouldn’t take a call from a congressman for an agency to respond to Texans’ concerns, the resident countered.
Another resident asked whether the federal government should be involved in flood insurance.
The national flood insurance has been in the federal government’s domain since 1968. Private insurers didn’t offer many flood insurance policies because the rates people were willing to pay wouldn’t cover the risk. In turn, the government stepped in to offset that and help reduce spending on disaster response.
The flood insurance program is open to residential and commercial property owners in about 22,000 flood-prone communities across the nation. Congress sets the policies and rates and the Federal Emergency Management Agency administers the program.
The flood insurance program is set to expire Sept. 30 if Congress doesn’t act to reauthorize it.
Weber said he supported more private insurers offering flood insurance. The program would likely be extended, he said.
Weber used the town hall to discuss some of the U.S. House of Representatives’ recent work, including the passage of 12 appropriations bills in the past week, he said.
Weber blamed the U.S. Senate and its rule requiring 60 votes to bring up an issue for slowing down the process. More than 240 bills the House had passed were waiting in the Senate.
“The House of Representatives is doing its job,” Weber said.