Sports analysts call it the “eye test.” Sometimes you can tell a team is great without the stat sheet, but just by watching them play. We’d like to suggest that the Federal Emergency Management Agency should use the eye test in North Texas. More than three months after the tornadoes that struck Dallas on Oct. 20, that part of town is still marked by debris, boarded windows, closed businesses and looting. It is, by anyone’s eye test, a disaster.
But FEMA hasn’t trusted the eye test. The agency hasn’t forwarded Dallas’s plea for disaster relief funding to President Donald Trump because, by its accounting, the tornadoes weren’t disastrous enough. The threshold to qualify for aid stands at $38.5 million in damage to public infrastructure. That number is based on a puzzlingly specific $1.43 statewide per capita. And even though the city of Dallas, the state of Texas and the Insurance Council of Texas say the damage exceeds that threshold, FEMA disagrees.
We get it. The eye test isn’t everything. There has to be some objective measure of impact lest government relief checks become political currency, available for the cost of a vote or a round of golf. But objective measures also support the approval of FEMA relief.
Elizabeth Reich, the chief financial officer for Dallas, estimated that the city alone sustained $45 million in uninsured damage. Add county and Dallas Independent School District figures, and the cost of recovery soars. The Insurance Council of Texas puts the total damage estimate at $2 billion, making it the costliest weather event in North Texas history in terms of property damage. The city has approved spending $60 million on emergency costs. So far, FEMA has validated only $32.7 million in damage.
Last week, Mayor Eric Johnson met with FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor to ask for relief. On Jan. 13, Gov. Greg Abbott asked Trump to issue an order for the relief. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have written letters in support of Abbott’s request.
This isn’t a money grab. In fact, Abbott’s office was slow to file the request. On Dec. 3, six weeks after the storms, Nim Kidd, head of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said the governor wouldn’t make the request until he was sure the damage exceeded the $38.5 million threshold. “It erodes our credibility if we ask for things we know we’re not eligible for,” he said.
Now, Abbott is sure. So are Johnson, Cornyn, Cruz, Reich and anyone who has driven through the devastated area in the past three months. It’s time to release the federal funds to help Dallas rebuild at least some of what was lost in October.