Commentary: Texas kids merit talks on rainy day fund, special session

The proverbial “rainy day” has come for Texas. The tens of thousands of children affected by Hurricane Harvey now need functional schools, accessible health care and safe places to live.

Texas cannot wait until the 2019 Legislature Session to act. The children of the Gulf coast deserve an emergency special session of the Texas Legislature that focuses on their needs. Gov. Greg Abbott should immediately call the Legislature back to Austin to use a significant portion of the state’s so-called rainy day fund — which as of 2016 was the largest in the nation — to help the children left homeless, hungry, and without schools by Harvey.

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Abbott and the Texas Legislature must move forcefully and partner with local officials to create a comprehensive approach to serve and protect our youngest Texans in this vulnerable moment.

As we learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina restoring public schools after a large-scale disaster is extraordinarily difficult. Harris County alone has more than 20 school districts. Even in the best of times, coordination can be difficult. The Legislature can step in immediately to ensure that school districts, Head Start professionals, child care providers, and public charter schools have the resources they need to get students back into the classroom.

Also, the Legislature can see to it that children’s health needs are met. The hurricane is exacerbating an already stressed health care system. Kids on the coast will need basic checkups, vaccinations, treatment for acute conditions caused by Harvey — and access to new medical homes for long-term care. Many children affected by Harvey may also require comprehensive and long-term diagnosis and treatment for mental health needs as a result of the trauma they experienced.

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Children affected by the hurricane deserve safe communities and homes. The process of recovery and rebuilding will be long and hard. Many families will be without permanent housing for months or maybe even years. Swiftly and decisive action is needed to ensure a stable supply of good housing while families rebuild their flooded or flattened homes.

The Texas Legislature must ensure that all communities are safe and clean places to live and free of toxic chemicals. Petrochemical facilities in areas hard hit by Hurricane Harvey may be exposing hundreds of thousands of children to toxic chemicals.

Disaster recovery is not cheap — and coordination of funds is essential for success. The federal government will most likely bear most of the burden. The state of Texas, our cities, philanthropy, the faith community, and individual Texans will also contribute to the recovery effort. Texas has resources at its disposal.

Gov. Abbott, bring the Legislature back to Austin to address our children’s needs and use the rainy day fund for the purpose for which it was named and created.

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Sanborn lives in Houston and is the president and CEO of Children At Risk, a Texas-based research and advocacy group.

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