Winter Storm Update: Feb. 20

Temperatures are on the rise, and more homes (6,000 in Dallas were still without as of last night, according to Oncor) have electricity, but there is still quite a bit to do after this week’s major winter storm. Here are some updates you need to know for the weekend.

  • Dallas ISD cancels school for Monday and Tuesday;
  • State, county urge reporting damages for FEMA aid;
  • Abbott issues series of actions to help after storms;
  • Early moves made in power outage investigations.
Dallas ISD cancels school for Monday and Tuesday

The aftermath of the storm has damaged several schools in Dallas ISD, prompting the district to cancel school Monday and Tuesday, too.

“With the aftermath of the inclement weather still presenting very real challenges for our families and schools, Dallas ISD schools will be closed Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 22 and 23, and there will be no virtual learning,” the district said in a tweet Friday evening.

The district said that essential staff is at work repairing damaged schools, and central staff were expected to start work Monday.

“This has been an unusual time for everyone, particularly our parents who are dealing with extensive recovery conditions and repairs in their homes, and many have been displaced because of the damages,” a letter to the school board explained.

State, county urge reporting damages for FEMA aid

Texans who have experienced damages because of the storm are being encouraged to participate in a self-reporting damage survey so the state can better assess the extent of the damages across Texas, and to provide more data to FEMA for disaster assistance.

“‪As the weather improves, please help us to assess the extent of the damage. Your participation can help ensure our communities receive the federal aid we’ll need for repairs and improvements,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.

To report damages, click here.

Officials stressed that reporting the damage to the Texas Division of Emergency Management is not a substitute for reporting damage to insurance companies, and it’s not a guarantee of disaster relief assistance.

“I urge Texans to fill out the Self Reporting Damage Survey and provide crucial information on the winter weather impacts to their home or property,” said Gov. Greg Abbott. “The information gleaned from this survey will help our state identify the full impact of this winter weather and help emergency management better serve Texans.”

Saturday afternoon, FEMA announced it would begin taking applications for assistance from homeowners and businesses in 77 counties, including Dallas.

“If you have insurance and are applying for disaster assistance, you must also file a claim with your insurance company as soon as possible,” the agency explained. “By law, FEMA cannot duplicate benefits for losses covered by insurance. If insurance does not cover all your damage, you may be eligible for federal assistance.”

To apply for asstance, go to www.disasterassistance.gov, or call 800-621-3362 (TTY: 800-462-7585). The toll-free telephone lines operate from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. CDT, seven days a week.

Applicants should have the following information readily available:

  • A current phone number where you can becontacted
  • Your address at the time of the disaster and the address where you are now staying
  • Your Social Security number, if available
  • A general list of damage and losses
  • If insured, the insurance policy number, or the agent and company name

“Take photos to document damage and begin cleanup and repairs to prevent further damage,” the agency said. “Remember to keep receipts from all purchases related to the cleanup and repair.”

FEMA assistance may include help with temporary lodging, home repairs, low-interest loans to covered uninsured property loss, and other programs.

Abbott issues series of actions to help after storms

Friday, Abbott issued a series of waivers and other actions designed to address a variety of issues that were created by this week’s weather.

Abbott said he has issued waivers suspending some regulations regarding food distribution to help those who desire to provide meals to those affected by the storm.

Under these waivers, individuals and groups will be allowed to use unlicensed kitchens to prepare meals to donate to Texans so long as they follow the Department of State Health Services’ guidance on food safety.

“As the State of Texas responds to this emergency, we are using all the tools at our disposal to ensure Texans have the resources they need,” said Abbott. “Temporarily suspending these regulations will allow Texans to prepare and donate meals to help ensure that families have the food they need to support their families.”

Abbott also announced that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission received federal approval to replace the benefits of Supplementan Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients who lost food during the power outages.

SNAP recipients can call 211 and choose option 2 to apply.

“I thank our federal partners for swiftly approving SNAP benefit replacements for food lost or destroyed in the wake of this winter weather disaster,” said Abbott. “This support is essential to help Texans continue to provide nutritious meals for their families in these challenging times.” 

“Texas is committed to helping SNAP clients throughout the state replace food lost from the winter storm,” said Wayne Salter, Texas HHS Access and Eligibility Services deputy executive commissioner.

Abbott also issued waivers to allow long-term care facilities to temporarily exceed capacity limits if they need to move residents to other facilities because of damage, power outages, or water service disruption.

“These waivers will help long-term care facilities respond to winter weather impacts by temporarily easing regulations related to capacity, transfers, intake, discharges, and related processes and paperwork,” said Abbott. “We will continue to provide our communities with the flexibility and support they need to safely and efficiently respond to the impact of this winter weather.” 

The Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has created a phone bank for local water utilities who are unable to get water testing at their contracted labs. The agency has also partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set up three mobile water testing labs, and has partnered with local river authorities and the state of Arkansas to use their water labs to assist locals with bacteria sampling.

Abbott’s office also said that as of Friday, 320 plumbers have renewed their license, and the state is coordinating with multiple out-of-state plumbing companies to send additional plumbers to Texas. The Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) is continuing to deliver bottled water to communities facing water shortages or water quality issues.

“Thanks to the efforts of linemen, plumbers, first responders, truckers, farmers, ranchers, grocery store workers, refinery workers, and more, we continue to make tremendous strides to overcome the challenges of the past week,” said Abbott. “We know that this past week has been challenging for far too many Texans. Our state agencies are working around the clock to restore power and water, and to ensure Texans have food and supplies. I want to reassure the people of Texas that we are using every tool at our disposal to help those in need. We have overcome challenges in the past, and we will overcome this challenge together.”

Early moves made in power outage investigations

Investigations into several aspects of the power outages and associated woes have begun.

Abbott said Saturday that he was holding an emergency meeting with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dade Phelan, and members of the state legislature to address the spike in energy bills that have come in the wake of the storm.

Expected to attend are State Sen. Jane Nelson, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee; State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., vice-chair of the Senate Finance committee; State Sen. Kelly Hancock, chair of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee; State Sen. Robert Nichols, vice-chair of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee; State Rep. Greg Bonnen, chair of the House Appropriations Committee; State Rep. Chris Paddie, chair of the House State Affairs Committee; State Rep. Ana Hernandez, vice chair of the House State Affairs Committee; and State Rep. Craig Goldman, chair of the House Energy Resources Committee.

“It is unacceptable for Texans who suffered through days in the freezing cold without electricity or heat to now be hit with skyrocketing energy costs,” saidAbbott. “To protect families, I am actively working with the Lieutenant Governor, the Speaker of the House and members of the Legislature to develop solutions to ensure that Texans are not on the hook for unreasonable spikes in their energy bills.”

The Public Utility Commission held an open meeting to launch an investigation into the widespread outages, with commissioners unanimously approving what they say are a series of steps designed to protect retail electrical customers.

“The immediate impact of this terrible weather was the loss of power for millions of Texas households and the financial aftershocks could be devastating,” said PUC chair DeAnn Walker. “We must act swiftly to discover not only how this crisis came together, but also take meaningful steps to protect electricity customers.”  

The commission voted to waive deadlines surrounding the Provider of Last Resort program in which retail electric providers volunteer to accept the customers of other REPs exiting the market.  These “volunteer” REPs are required to charge a competitive rate, rather than the higher so-called “POLR rate.” The changes include:

  • Extending the registration deadline for REPs willing to serve as a volunteer providers in order to expand the pool of available providers.
  • Delaying customer transitions to volunteer providers until Wednesday, February 24, 2021 to allow the new POLR REPs time to register and prepare for the influx of new customers.  

“This week’s weather and associated grid crisis were a nightmare for millions of Texas,” said Thomas Gleeson, PUC Executive Director. “While the financial implications may drive some retail electric providers from the marketplace, we will work to ensure their customers can easily transition to a new provider.  Customers transitioned to a volunteer provider should contact the new provider to ensure they are on a plan that suits their budget.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued Civil Investigative Demands to ERCOT and several power companies regarding the outages as well.

“I’m using the full scope of my Constitutional powers to launch an investigation into ERCOT and other entities that grossly mishandled this week’s extreme winter weather. While Texans pulled together to get their communities through this disaster, they were largely left in the dark,” said Paxton. “We will get to the bottom of this power failure and I will tirelessly pursue justice for Texans.”

In addition to ERCOT, Abbott sent demands to Griddy Energy, Oncor, and nine other entities.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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