Is the White House Playing Politics with Disaster Relief Funds?

On April 17, the central Texas town of West was rocked by an explosion at a fertilizer plant that killed 15 people, injured more than 160 people and leveled an entire neighborhood. This small community of less than 3,000 people situated on Interstate-35 between Waco and Dallas was decimated.

In the immediate aftermath, Texas Governor Rick Perry, county and local officials scrambled reduce and recovery assets to help victims of the tragedy and aide those working in the rescue and recovery efforts. In a statement issued the following day, President Obama said, “My Administration, through FEMA and other agencies, is in close contact with our state and local partners on the ground to make sure there are no unmet needs,” and that the people of West, “will have the support of the American people.”

When the President visited the blast site eight days later for a memorial honoring the victims, in front of a crowd of 10,000 he pledged, “To the families, the neighbors grappling with unbearable loss, we are here to say you are not alone. You are not forgotten.”

Now it seems that the President’s words are ringing hollow.

This week came word that FEMA is denying funds to help rebuild West, Texas just two months after the devastating blast. In a letter sent from the agency to Governor Rick Perry, FEMA said that the tragic explosion and its aftermath, “is not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration.” Reaction to the administration’s denial of relief funds has been shocking and swift.

West Mayor Tommy Muska told the Associated Press, “I’m not sure what their definition of a major disaster is, but I know what I see over there and it’s pretty bleak.”

Muska estimates that repairs to the town will cost nearly $60 million, which includes the estimated $40 million in costs just to repair and rebuild schools in the town destroyed by the plant explosion.

Governor Perry was also shocked at Obama’s decision. “He said his administration would stand with them, ready to help,” saying that he had anticipated that the President would “hold true to his word” to ensure West received the much-needed assistance that was promised by Obama in the days after the blast.

Rob Johnson, Governor Perry’s former campaign manager spoke with me this week and said he was appalled by the Obama administration’s lack of compassion for the residents of West.

“This decision is absolutely ridiculous. Apparently, this administration keeps tabs on how states vote instead of caring about citizens in need. Government should do few things and do them well. One thing that is certain is caring and helping citizens in need because of disasters.”

Although the administration has provided some funds to West, FEMA’s denial of the “major disaster declaration” cuts off both public and individual aid, blocking money to the city for rebuilding efforts and denying residents crisis counseling and other needed services.

Some within Obama’s Left went so far as to mock Texas and the victims of April’s explosion. The Sacramento Bee’s cartoonist Jack Ohman used the tragedy as an opportunity to criticize Governor Rick Perry’s successful efforts to move companies from California’s failing business climate to the Lone Star State. Ohman’s cartoon featured the Governor standing in front of a sign that reads, “Low Tax! Low Regs!” and saying “Business is booming in Texas!” The second pane of the cartoon shows the West explosion and the word “BOOM!”

Ohman’s tasteless commentary on the tragedy illustrates how heartless the Left can be when the victims aren’t their own.

Meanwhile, President Obama is set to spend $100 million on a trip to Africa. Half of that trip’s cost could help the 3,000 residents of West rebuild their lives and recover from one of the worst industrial accidents in American history.

Enjoy your trip, Mr. President.

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