Opinion

Commentary: Falsehoods about Texas fire aid flames on

Bob Ray Sanders is a writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Bob Ray Sanders is a writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. MCT

Gov. Rick Perry, along with the state's two U.S. senators and other members of Congress, need to cease and desist with their trumped-up charges against President Barack Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Their feigned outrage and indignant messages to the White House about recent Texas wildfires and the administration's refusal to declare practically the entire state a disaster area are acts of political grandstanding rather than true concern for the safety and welfare of fellow Texans.

Besides, there is a crucial ingredient missing in all their correspondence to the White House and their barrage of news releases to national media: the truth.

At the very least, the governor is guilty of obfuscation.

He knows full well that his request for a disaster declaration was overstated and that his insistence that FEMA is denying help is a gross exaggeration.

It's difficult to understand why Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison would go along with such nonsense unless neither has read Perry's 10-page April letter to the president, or they know the truth and are complicit in the deception of the people of Texas.

Because of the over-hyped and less-than-detailed news coverage of this issue, many people in some of the hardest-hit counties believe that Perry, in asking for the disaster declaration, was requesting direct aid for families, individuals and communities that suffered wildfire losses.

That is not what Perry was soliciting from the federal government.

The governor requested more funds to assist in fighting the fires, something the federal government was and is already doing.

A FEMA representative in Washington pointed out during a telephone interview last week that the governor's request did not have to go to the president because the state could receive approval for fire management assistance grants from a regional office.

The closest regional office for Texas is in Denton.

"This administration, through FEMA, has been working closely with the state throughout the duration of these fires, and we are supporting the firefighting efforts," said Rachel Racusen, FEMA's director of public affairs. "In fact, we have approved 25 fire management assistance grants to help cover expenses for these emergency response efforts.

"Each of these grants covers 75 percent of the costs to fight the fire and many of the same emergency response needs that Gov. Perry was seeking assistance for."

A 26th grant was requested and approved after that interview.

Even if we assume, or desperately want to believe, that the federal government has not done enough to help Texas in this crisis, does anyone believe that all but two of Texas' 254 counties should be declared a disaster area because of wildfires? That's preposterous.

And, yet, some of our leaders won't leave it alone.

Before the president's trip to Texas on Tuesday, Cornyn and Hutchison co-signed a letter urging Obama to visit North Texas "to tour fire-stricken areas," view the devastation firsthand and talk with the "brave firefighters" trying to save lives.

"We have written to you and your Administration on numerous occasions regarding our constituents and their struggle to combat and control the wildfires that have engulfed large portions of Texas," the letter said.

"The importance of issuing a federal disaster declaration at the state of Texas' request in order to reduce the burden these wildfires have imposed on our constituents and communities cannot be overstated."

Except for specifics about the number of wildfires (more than 7,000) and amount of acreage burned (more than 2.2 million this year), these letters have been vague and indeed "overstated."

In Palo Pinto, an area that suffered tremendous devastation, County Judge David Nicklas said outright that he knew his county wouldn't qualify for a federal disaster declaration because most of the homes that were destroyed were vacation homes and not primary residences.

Yet, Palo Pinto, Tarrant, Dallas, Harris, Bexar and 247 other Texas counties were included in the governor's request for federal disaster aid.

All of this finger-pointing at Washington has been going on as the Texas Legislature passed bills cutting 40 percent of funding for the Texas Forest Service programs designed to fight wildfires. Go figure.

Governor and senators, let's put out this fake fire and get on to some real issues.

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