Texas is getting its water and power back, but the ‘real disaster’ is still looming

Let me just say right now with so many homes across the city having pipes that burst because of the frigid weather and major leaks, major water damage, we need a lot of plumbing materials and supplies like right now,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told CNN. 

Then there are the outrageous power bills looming over many households, thousands of dollars in many cases and even over $10,000 in some. Gov. Greg Abbott and state legislators say they’re working to prevent those bills from going out or being collected. “Texans who have suffered through days of freezing cold without power should not be subjected to skyrocketing energy bills due to a spike in the energy market,” according to Abbott. But this is the system Republicans designed, and one of its architects—a Harvard professor not hoping to get votes from the people of Texas—has made clear it’s working as intended.

Texas is clawing its way back from the water outages, the electrical outages, massive amounts of spoiled food and resulting bare grocery store shelves, and the shock of the power bills many people face. Dozens of people died, and the full toll likely won’t be known for some time. There are so many problems to be fixed here, and the people in charge of doing so are the people who created the problems to begin with—the Republicans who refused regulation, who embraced predatory financial arrangements, who rejected infrastructure investments and then lied about the cause of the problems that inevitably came.

Now the fight is to ensure that vulnerable communities aren’t victimized in the recovery as they were in the disaster. That starts with people struggling to stay housed and fed after losing days of income and being forced to throw out food that spoiled during power outages, but it will continue as aid flows into the state. Texas has a recent example of how that can work: In the aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, as in many other natural disasters in recent years, disaster relief went disproportionately to white areas and affluent communities.

So many Black and brown communities that are the predominant population of their whole county, especially rural counties, they do not have the resources and the infrastructure often to match federal aid, so they don’t get it,” Junia Howell, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh, told USA Today. “White communities, and particularly white middle and upper-class people, win out over and over and over.”

For Black and Latino communities, the struggle may just be beginning, because it’s in the recovery “where the real disaster I think it’s going to take place,” Howell said. “I’m not super hopeful that this recovery is going to come out in a way that is more equitable than past recoveries.”

Chauncia Willis of the Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management named it very bluntly for what it is: ”What you will see, as with COVID-19 and with any disaster, is disproportionate death and negative impacts for those who are most vulnerable among us,” she told USA Today. “These inequities are easily identifiable before disaster and, of course, they’re rooted in systemic bias, racism and the country’s anti-poverty mindset.”

This is a challenge for the Biden administration and for Congress as federal disaster aid is directed to Texas. But we know that whatever the federal efforts at equity may be, they’ll be pushing against the impulses and intentions of Texas state officials like Abbott.

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