On the day that Vice President Mike Pence visited the South Texas city of Victoria after Hurricane Harvey, one he said he’ll never forget, he noticed that volunteers were distinguishable by their T-shirt colors. A few were wearing blue, and many were wearing red.
Pence, who was in Austin on Wednesday to receive a briefing from Federal Emergency Management Agency officials on the Harvey response, recalled that he asked a volunteer what the colors meant. Red meant a person was from Texas and blue meant out-of-state.
“One after another, I asked them, ‘How’s your house?’ and they’d say, ‘Oh, it’s in bad shape … I just figured there are people that are worse off than me,’” he said. “When I saw the outpouring of compassion and support from one neighbor to another, my wife and I left Texas that day inspired.”
Pence, flanked by Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, reiterated the Trump administration’s commitment to relief for Texas and praised state and federal leaders. Pence also commended FEMA officials for doing “yeoman’s work.” He noted that there are still 3,600 federal emergency personnel working in Texas.
More than 888,000 people have applied for assistance under the individuals and household program, and the agency has approved $1.39 billion in assistance for housing, he said. (According to FEMA’s website, the agency has approved about 351,000 applications.)
More than $490 million has been given to Texans through FEMA’s public assistance program, and the National Flood Insurance Program has paid out $4.4 billion, he said.
Abbott has pushed for more federal funding for Harvey recovery, pressing his case on a visit to Washington this month in meetings with congressional leaders and Trump administration officials. Among other things, Abbott is seeking $61 billion to rebuild public infrastructure and build massive flood mitigation projects.
Congress already approved $15 billion in aid for Harvey in September. Last month, President Donald Trump signed off on putting an additional $36.5 billion toward efforts to recover from hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, and the California wildfires.
Abbott said Wednesday that he believed that the U.S. Office of Management and Budget would be issuing “some suggested amount of funding later on this week.”
“I know the House is eager to take it up as well as the U.S. Senate,” Abbott said. “These are steps along the way as we continue the rebuilding process.”
Abbott has projected that the Texas rebuilding effort might ultimately require as much as $180 billion in federal money.
At a legislative hearing in Corpus Christi last week, local Coastal Texas leaders complained that federal money was slow to arrive in their communities and that many people were still living in tents and hotels.
“One thing we realize is that there are still so many Texans that are facing challenges,” Abbott said. “One reason why we gathered today is … to find strategies of what we need to do to help our fellow Texans respond to the challenges they still face and to make sure we do so as quickly as possible.”
Pence, who did not take questions from the media, struck an optimistic tone about the recovery ahead.
“We’ve made progress together … but we understand we have a long way to go, and I hope my presence here today gives that message of the determination of President Trump to keep our word,” Pence said. “We know Texas will come all the way back and then some.”