Obama’s decision to declare West explosion major disaster is welcome news

Posted Monday, Aug. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Eight days after a fertilizer plant explosion devastated the tiny town of West in Central Texas, President Obama stood in front of 14 flag-draped coffins at Baylor University and told grieving residents and other mourners:

“We’re Americans, too, and we stand with you, and we do not forget. And we’ll be there even after the cameras leave and after the attention turns elsewhere. Your country will remain ever ready to help you recover and rebuild and reclaim your community.”

For several months since that moving speech, some in West and throughout Texas have wondered if the president would make good on that promise, especially since the Federal Emergency Management Agency refused to designate the explosion a major disaster.

The administration, through FEMA and the Small Business Administration, had been quick on the scene after the tragedy, providing millions of dollars in aid to residents and businesses: $3 million for temporary classrooms, $694,000 to pay residents’ hotel rooms and moving expenses and $4.9 million for small business loans.

But FEMA denied the major disaster declaration for rebuilding infrastructure and three of the town’s four schools destroyed by the blast because it felt the state of Texas could and should provide that funding. The state, however, approved only $10 million in assistance.

Gov. Rick Perry and others had criticized Obama for not coming through with more federal dollars for West. A bi-partisan letter signed by 35 of the state’s 38 members of Congress also urged the president to reconsider Texas’ request.

Friday, the day after he signed an executive order calling for more federal oversight of chemical plants, Obama kept his pledge and overruled FEMA’s decision, making way for millions of dollars more to pour into the community.

Under the disaster declaration, the federal government will pay 75 percent of the costs for reconstructing the schools and public facilities. It also will help pay for a majority of the costs incurred by the state and local agencies during and immediately following the tragedy.

This is good news for the people of West and the state of Texas. It’s too bad the governor and attorney general, in their official statements, didn’t have the gumption or the civility to publicly thank the president.

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