HOUSTON – Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday called the federal government's efforts to help Texas recover from Hurricane Ike "underwhelming" and announced the formation of a state commission to help move the process along.
Hurricane Ike slammed into the Texas coast on Sept. 13, but more than two months later, there are still thousands of displaced residents without homes and counties with debris fields as long as 30 miles.
Perry announced the formation of a state commission, the Governor's Commission for Disaster Recovery and Renewal, that will oversee coastal rebuilding and develop recommendations for responding to future storms.
"The response from Washington has been pretty underwhelming," Perry said at a news conference.
"The bottom line is the system doesn't work. These problems affect Texans, and Texans are going to fix them," he said.
One of the commission's first jobs will be to find short-term housing for the thousands of residents displaced by the hurricane, he said. He and other state officials have accused the Federal Emergency Management Agency of being too slow in providing mobile homes and other housing.
"Such a pace is unacceptable when we have Texans sleeping in cars next door to trailers with locks on them," Perry said.
Perry also said he wants FEMA to cover the entire cost of debris removal.
FEMA typically pays 75 percent of cleanup costs, with local governments responsible for the other 25 percent. Texas officials estimate cleanup costs from Ike total $2 billion. Some municipalities say that unless FEMA picks up the whole tab, the costs could bankrupt them.
Debbie Wing, a spokeswoman for FEMA, said the agency has already approved three requests from Texas to pay 100 percent of cleanup costs that covered the first 44 days after the storm. A fourth request has been received by FEMA and the agency is processing it as quickly as possible, she said.
"We will work hard until we get the job done," Wing said.
Perry said he is not waiting for FEMA to act and has asked the Texas Department of Transportation to help finish removing debris. The state will still seek reimbursement from the federal government.
FEMA officials have said no decision has been made on whether to extend the full coverage for debris removal, which expired late last month.
The governor's office said the preliminary cost estimate for recovery from Ike and hurricanes Dolly and Gustav, which also struck the state this year, stands at $29.4 billion and is likely to grow.
A farmworker rights organization and 14 poor south Texas residents sued FEMA Thursday, accusing the agency of refusing to help thousands of poor families repair their homes after Dolly.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Brownsville by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid on behalf of the residents and La Union del Pueblo Entero, or LUPE, says FEMA denied requests for money to cover home repairs to 10,000 to 15,000 residents in the Rio Grande Valley since the July 23 hurricane. It asks the court to force FEMA to disclose the standards it uses to decide who gets aid for home repairs and make the agency reconsider its denials.
FEMA spokeswoman Ashley Small said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.