AUSTIN — A plan is afoot for large-scale, regional projects to improve the state’s resilience to hurricanes and other natural disasters, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Oct. 4.

Abbott tapped Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush to lead the federally funded $4 billion-plus “comprehensive mitigation” effort. Funding will come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under a community development block grant.

“Today we are pushing forward with the single-largest mitigation program our state has ever seen,” Abbott said. “Commissioner Bush and I are committed to working together in partnership with HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) and the Texas Division of Emergency Management to maximize the impact of this funding.”

HUD on Aug. 23 released mandatory rules for the use of more than $4.3 billion in Congressionally-appropriated funding to be administered by the Texas General Land Office. Funding has been earmarked for projects as follows:

  • $4,074,456,000 for Hurricane Harvey;
  • $169,748,000 for 2016 floods; and
  • $52,985,000 for 2015 floods.

The overall total includes certain funds for 2015 floods to be allocated directly by HUD to

  • City of Houston, $61,884,000; and
  • City of San Marcos, $24,012,000.

Federal disaster declared

The White House on Oct. 4 ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local recovery efforts in Texas counties affected by Tropical Storm Imelda from Sept. 17 to Sep. 23.

The disaster declaration makes federal funding available to affected individuals in the counties of Chambers, Harris, Jefferson, Liberty, Montgomery and Orange. Assistance may include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard-mitigation measures statewide. Additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments, according to a White House news release.

When Gov. Abbott requested the presidential disaster declaration on Oct. 1, he said, “The recent severe weather in the Gulf Coast region has impacted thousands of Texans, leaving many without the resources they need to recover.”

Sales tax revenue inches higher

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Oct. 2 announced state sales tax revenue totaled $2.74 billion in September, an amount 1.2 percent more than the amount reported for the month of September 2018.

“State sales tax revenue grew only modestly in September,” Hegar said. “Strong growth in receipts from the construction sector, retail trade and restaurants were largely offset by declining receipts from oil- and gas-related sectors.”

Total sales tax revenue for the three months ending in September 2019 was up 3.2 percent compared to the same period a year ago. Sales tax is the largest source of state funding for the state budget, accounting for 57 percent of all tax collections.

State’s ‘Farm Fresh’ challenge kicks off

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller on Oct. 2 announced the start of the Texas Department of Agriculture’s annual Farm Fresh Challenge for Texas schools.

The effort encourages schools to buy Texas-grown foods, teach students about the importance of agriculture and celebrate their activities on social media.

More than 220 school districts and charter school organizations have pledged participation for 2019, according to the Texas Department of Agriculture.

DSHS updates case count

The Department of State Health Services on Oct. 1 reported the identification of some 75 Texas cases of severe lung disease in people who report vaping before developing symptoms.

State health officials, who update and post the case count every Tuesday, are gathering more information about 34 other possible cases to determine whether they are consistent with the symptoms and substance use seen in cases in Texas and 47 other states.

Patients range in age from 13 to 75 with a median age of 22 years. About one-third of the Texas cases have been in teens, three-quarters are male and almost all required hospitalization.

Nationally, 1,080 cases have been reported. DSHS is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and other states to gather evidence of what the cases have in common and determine a cause.