Perry Remains Unapologetic About Scathing FEMA Letter

11-2-05 - Gov. Rick Perry remained unapologetic Wednesday for a scathing list of shortcomings he sent in a letter to the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, stating that the urgent needs of his state mandated a "less tactful" approach to FEMA's unresponsiveness.

"I have counties and I have cities and I have hospitals in this state that are hurting because of the generous, giving nature of those people, and the government says they will pay for these services. They're capable of doing what they said they would do," Perry said Wednesday at a San Antonio news conference to announce a new education initiative.

The governor said he had not received a response to the letter, sent Tuesday to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

"The fact of the matter is that we have been very tactful in our dealing with all the federal agencies," Perry said. "There comes a point in time when I'm going to be less tactful."

Perry's letter marked only one aspect of a large-scale assault Tuesday by Texas officials against FEMA. Houston Mayor Bill White complained about the federal hurricane response to lawmakers in Washington, and Texas apartment representatives released a survey blaming FEMA for the possible eviction of 15,000 refugees.

Perry cited that survey data in his letter and criticized FEMA's conflicting instructions. He said the agency failed "to swiftly assist Texas in identifying Katrina sex offenders and violent criminals, as well as parolees and probationers who are subject to supervision."

The Republican governor, who was quick to offer Texas' help after Katrina battered Louisiana, also accused FEMA of treating Texas hurricane victims differently from Louisianans affected by Hurricane Rita.

"Natural disasters recognize no state boundaries, and neither should FEMA," Perry wrote.

Speaking at a news conference in El Paso late Tuesday, Chertoff said he had not seen Perry's letter. He praised Texas' response after hurricanes Katrina and Rita and said he recognized the need to get help to the region quickly, but "the scope of what we had to do" with three hurricanes was a monumental task.

"This was beyond anything we've done before," he said.

More than a quarter-million refugees were relocated to Texas after Katrina. Up to 175,000 are thought to be living in Texas apartments now.

Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said agency officials plan a written response to Perry's letter but said FEMA hasn't seen evidence of some of the claims being made.

One of those claims came in the survey by the Texas Apartment Association, which pleaded Tuesday with FEMA for federal payment of evacuee rent while warning that delinquent tenants faced impending evictions.

FEMA officials said they have not seen evidence from the apartment association to back up the eviction claims. Also, evacuees have not alerted FEMA to imminent evictions, Knocke said.

"It's a serious claim, and we're going to look at it," he said.

Perry also railed against a denied request for extended reimbursement. He had asked FEMA to extend by 60 days the federal government's agreement to pay 100 percent of costs for debris removal and emergency protective services in Texas counties.

Knocke did not explain why the agency denied Perry's request but said the governor could appeal.

Perry said in the letter Tuesday that he had appealed FEMA's decision to President Bush, requesting full reimbursement for a minimum of 30 additional days.

"Texas is willing to work and do our part, but FEMA has to sit down and come up with a long-term, thoughtful plan," he said.