Four Days

If you’re like me, you’re tired of being at home! We all want to get out and most importantly, we all want to see all businesses reopened as quickly as possible, so all Texans can get back to work. Unfortunately, I fear Governor Abbott’s confusing, haphazard and disorganized plan is doing more harm than good.

Phase 1 of Abbott’s plan went into effect Friday. He said retail stores, restaurants and movie theaters could operate at 25% capacity. This was to be followed by a phase 2 that would go into effect no sooner than May 18th — once there was a couple of weeks of data and the state had determined that it is safe to move forward with increased occupancy rates and allowing additional types of businesses to open.

With Dallas County reporting its highest single-day increase with 237 new positive COVID-19 cases just three days following the start of phase 1 and Friday Tarrant County reporting 144 new positive cases, the data didn’t seem to be heading in the right direction.

I guess the Governor has information we’re just not privy to, because four days [read: not two weeks] after phase 1 took effectGovernor Abbott jumped ahead to phase 2.

So, starting tomorrow, swimming pools; barber shops; hair, nail and tanning salons will be permitted to open. On May 18th, gyms and other workout facilities will be added to that list, and as of Tuesday, outdoor seating at restaurants don’t have to comply with the 25 percent capacity rule.

There’s no other way to say it — these are dangerous decisions that will result in a spike in cases and more people getting sick.

Yesterday, I was on a call with local leaders and the discussion turned to whether or not these decisions could be reversed if there’s a spike in cases. In response, a public health expert said, “it will be very hard to put the genie back in the bottle.” He’s right. Unfortunately, there’s likely no turning back.

The premature nature of these decisions is coupled with the fact that there are few requirements that businesses must follow to keep employees and customers protected. Abbott’s plan lists only “minimum recommended” guidelines for cleaning, personal protection equipment (PPE) and other safety precautions. Because his executive order preempts local decision-making, cities’ and counties’ hands are tied and they can no longer do things like require people to wear masks. It’s a shame, because it will be the cities and counties and their public health departments that will absorb much of the impact when we see an increase in positive tests.

To be clear, I want everything reopened as soon as possible.

I am, however, opposed to doing so in a rushed and haphazard way, without the data trending in the right direction, before we have adequate testing and contact tracing in place, and before addressing the need for more PPE.

Yes, we may now be permitted to eat out, go to a movie and get a haircut. All of which sound pretty wonderful after nearly two months of staying at home.

Unfortunately, it’s too soon when the virus is still spreading quickly. For the safety of others and ourselves, let’s continue to stay home as much as possible.

IN THE NEWS: APRIL 24, 2020

As a friend and supporter, I want to keep you updated on the work that my fellow House Democrats and I are doing in response to COVID-19.

Below are some recent news clips that may be of interest to you.

Stay safe.

Chris


Texas House Democrats Want to Reopen Economy:
First, Abbott Must Increase
COVID-19 Testing & Expand Medicaid

KVUE / April 22, 2020
‘Texas is way behind’ | State lawmaker weighs in on lack of testing as Central 
Texas clinics ramp up efforts
“We have to have much more robust testing for COVID-19,” said Rep. Chris Turner (D-Texas 101). “We all want the economy reopened as quickly as possible.”


Baytown Sun / April 18, 2020
San Marcos Daily Record / Texas Press Association / April 21, 2020
Governor’s Orders Move State Toward Reopening
After Abbott’s news conference, Texas House Democratic Caucus Chairman Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, said, “We want the Texas economy to fully reopen as soon as possible, and public health experts agree that can only happen with robust testing in place. When it comes to decisions on how to defeat COVID-19, we have to continue to follow doctors’ orders.” Story also featured: The Colorado County Citizen / April 22, 2020Kilgore News Herald / April 22, 2020

Chambers Co. unable to secure virus tests, PPE
Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) sits as the Chair of the Democratic Caucus and called for additional testing in the state.

“Texas continues to be in the bottom three states when it comes to COVID-19 testing per capita, and Gov. Abbott has failed to provide a clear plan for how Texas will increase testing. We have heard that there are ‘encouraging signs’ more testing is coming, but it never seems to happen. We need to dramatically increase testing right now.”

NBC DFW / April 17, 2020
State Representative Says More Coronavirus Testing is Needed Before Texas Opens Businesses

“Before we can do that we’ve got to have widespread testing available,” Texas House Democratic caucus chairman Representative Chris Turner said. “We’ve got to improve our testing capacity because we just don’t know how widespread this COVID-19 virus is in Texas.”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram / April 17, 2020
Abbott unveils guidelines to reopen Texas businesses; schools closed for academic year
“We have heard for weeks that there are ‘encouraging signs’ more testing is coming, but it never seems to happen, We need to dramatically increase testing, right now,” Rep. Chris Turner, a Democrat from Grand Prairie and chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said in a statement after Abbott’s announcementStory also featured: MSN.com / April 17, 2020

Texas Tribune / April 17, 2020
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announces team to restart the economy, loosens some restrictions

After the news conference, state Rep. Chris Turner, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, issued a statement saying Abbott has failed to “provide a clear plan for how Texas will increase testing.” Story also featured: Corsicana Daily Sun / April 21, 2020

Austin American Statesman / April 17, 2020
Abbott faces crosswinds as he prepares plan to reopen Texas

“The governor is the chief executive of our state. He should be guided by science and make the right decisions no matter how many different places he feels pressure from, and it’s just vitally important that whatever decisions he’s made are in in the interests of the public health and are guided by public health experts and not by ideologically driven motivations which seem to be what some of the voices are driven by that we’re hearing,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

Dallas Observer / April 17, 2020
With Abbott On Deck, Democrats Roll Out Their Own Conditions for Getting Texas Reopened
“Here’s our concern today: On Tuesday this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who, of course, is our country’s top infectious disease expert, publicly warned that the nation was not ready to ease stay-at-home orders,” said Grand Prairie Democrat Chris Turner, the head of the Texas House Democratic Caucus. “His stance has been echoed by Texas public health experts, doctors and hospital officials … The bottom line is this: Texas needs to follow doctors’ orders when it comes to fighting the coronavirus. We all want business to reopen as soon as possible, but that can only happen when it is safe to do so.”

El Paso Times / April 17, 2020
Gov. Greg Abbott to open Texas economy in stages during COVID-19 crisis
“Texas needs to follow the doctor’s orders when it comes to fighting the coronavirus. We all want business to reopen as soon as possible, but that can only happen when it is safe to do so,” state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, the House Democrat Caucus chair.

KVUE / April 16, 2020
Texas House Democrats call on Gov. Abbott to take action before reopening businesses
“The bottom line is this: Texas needs to follow doctor’s orders when it comes to fighting the coronavirus,” State Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie), chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, said.

KXAN / Nexstar TV / April 16, 2020
Democrats, Republicans host town halls ahead of Gov. Abbott’s Friday address 
“We all want businesses to be able to open…but that can only happen when it’s safe to do so. These are things that are essential that Governor Abbott has to get right before we reopen,” Rep. Turner said.

NBC DFW / April 5, 2020
Lone Star Politics
“I think there’s a lot of work yet to be done. We know that Texas does need to obtain more PPE to get out to health care providers, hospitals and first responders and we learned yesterday or last week from president Trump that there’s not much in the federal stockpile, and not much made available to states, which is a complete failure of leadership on the federal level.”

Other News

Fort Worth Star-Telegram / April 21, 2020
Texas approved to let SNAP recipients get their groceries delivered amid coronavirus

And it comes weeks after 45 state lawmakers had sent a letter to Abbott on April 3, urging him to direct HHSC to take part in the pilot program. From the Tarrant County area, Reps. Chris Turner, a Democrat from Grand Prairie, Nicole Collier, a Democrat from Fort Worth, and Ramon Romero, a Democrat from Fort Worth, signed on.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram / April 16, 2020
More delays in the Census could affect redistricting and response rates in Texas
In each of the last two decades, state lawmakers have tackled redistricting in special sessions, and Rep. Chris Turner, a Democrat from Grand Prairie and vice-chair of the House Redistricting Committee, said if need be, the legislature can adapt.

“Ultimately if that was the situation that we found ourselves in, I’m confident that legislators would step up and confront the challenge and hopefully get the people’s business done,” Turner said.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram / April 15, 2020
GOP lawmakers call on Abbott to loosen restrictions, restart economy amid coronavirus
“This is crazy and completely contrary to all guidance being provided by public health experts and medical professionals,” Turner wrote. “It’s also disgraceful that members of the Texas House are using racial, dogwhistle language like ‘Wuhan virus.’”

Austin American Statesman / April 14, 2020
Census delay may lead to Summer 2021 redistricting session
“Historically, every time new decennial census data is released, the Texas Legislature has met and made the effort to draw maps,” Turner said. “This time will be no different.”

Census may be more important than ever

Thursday, March 12th was the first day 2020 Census information arrived in mailboxes. It was also the day I had hoped to send this email. With the COVID-19 crisis, however, my attention shifted to ensuring that the people of District 101 have the information and resources they need during this uncertain time.

It’s hard to believe that was just over two weeks ago. It feels like so much has changed in such a short amount of time and we’re nowhere near seeing the full impact that this virus will have on our communities. What we do know is that many in our state will need help and that we will need to find every available resource to meet those needs. The Census is instrumental to us getting the resources Texas needs.

Texas’ census count will determine whether our state receives its share of about $675 billion in annual federal dollars for critical items such as transportation, hospitals, social services, education, and much, much more. Missing just 1% of our state’s population in our count would reduce that amount by nearly $300 million each fiscal year.

Our census count directly impacts our state’s children. If Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Head Start, school lunch programs, childcare, and other programs are not properly funded, Texas children will be hurt.

Our census count will help shape districts to determine representation in Washington, DC and in our state capitol. Plus, due to population growth, Texas stands to gain at least two more seats in Congress and two more electoral votes.

I suspect that if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already made it a priority to complete your 2020 Census. Thank you for doing your part. After you complete the questionnaire, I ask you to make sure that others do as well.

Who in Texas is more likely to be undercounted?

Children. Our state ranked #1 in undercounting kids during the 2010 Census. It is estimated that 102,406 children aged 0-4 weren’t reported. In Tarrant County, 6,800 children were missed, the majority of whom were Latino.

People of color. Earlier this month, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported about fears in the Latino community related to the 2020 Census. In the story, they quoted Mireya Flores, a Fort Worth mother, who said, I have family members that don’t have any papers. I don’t trust that they are not going to use it against us.”

Although this political stunt was ultimately blocked by the courts, the Trump Administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the Census will still contribute to mistrust within communities of color.

Renters. One-in-three Texans are renters, and the transient nature of renting makes it even more difficult to ensure that renters are counted.

Low-income Texans. Texas is home to the largest number of residents living in poverty, with over 4 million people living at or below the federal poverty level and another 5 million-plus living just above.

Unfortunately, Republicans in the Legislature failed to provide state resources for an accurate count. In contrast, California is spending $187 million on Census outreach — an investment that will ensure Californians receive their fair share of federal dollars and representation.

As a result of our state’s inaction, cities, counties, school districts, and other organizations are having to fill the gaps to ensure that everyone is counted and that they receive the resources they need. With the current COVID-19 crisis, these organizations, their budgets, and their capacity have been strained – making the gaps even more difficult to fill.

Before COVID-19 precautions were put in place, Census workers were scheduled to start knocking on doors, hosting events, and reaching out to those hard-to-count populations. Now that’s delayed.

I know that we are all trying to find ways to help one another out during this difficult time. One way is to help make sure that every Texan is counted.

Please talk to your family, friends and neighbors and remind them to go online and complete the 2020 Census. It may be more important this year than it ever has been before.

[COVID-19] Stay Home! And other Updates

First off, I hope you and your family are healthy, safe and staying at home as much as possible.

These are difficult and uncertain times, with information changing at what seems like a lightning-fast pace. Over the course of the past few weeks, my staff and I have been in daily communication with state and local officials about the COVID-19 crisis and doing all we can to keep the residents of District 101 updated.

To follow is some key information regarding the state and local response, as well as resources for those in need of help and for those willing to help. This is not an exhaustive list, and more COVID-19 information and resources may be found on my website by clicking here.

LOCAL RESPONSE TO COVID-19: Stay Home!
On Tuesday, Tarrant County and the cities of Arlington and Fort Worth instituted stay-at-home orders. As the strain on our medical facilities and health care providers increases, this was a critical step to slow the spread of the virus. I commend Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price for their leadership and for making this hard, but prudent decision that will save lives. I also thank my mayor, Ron Jensen of Grand Prairie, for his leadership and working with both Dallas and Tarrant Counties on these orders.

The orders require residents to remain at their homes unless they are engaging in “essential activities,” such as shopping for groceries, getting gas, visiting a pharmacy or picking up food or merchandise from a business. Businesses deemed “non-essential” are closed to the public or must operate on a pick-up/take-out only model. To view the entire order, click here.

Employees who work in “essential businesses” or government are permitted to travel to their work location, if necessary.

Additionally, gatherings outside of a single household are prohibited. Everyone is allowed — and encouraged — to go outdoors for exercise and fresh air; just maintain a distance of at least six feet from others.

These rules, which cover all of District 101, are in effect through at least April 7th.

To ensure that children in our community have access to nutritious meals, local school districts, including Arlington and Mansfield ISDs are providing food for any child 18 years old or younger. There is no requirement that the child attend an AISD or MISD school. For more information and locations, click here.

STATE RESPONSE TO COVID-19
The same day Tarrant County, Arlington, Fort Worth, and several other communities across Texas implemented stay-at-home orders, I spearheaded the effort to have the House Democratic Caucus, which I chair, call on Governor Greg Abbott to issue a statewide stay-home order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent our health care system from being overwhelmed in a matter of weeks. Doing so would also provide consistency across the state. To read the letter, click here.

Additionally, the Dallas Morning News has a good summary of our efforts here. Unfortunately, Gov. Abbott has so far declined to use his authority to take this action, but I remain hopeful that he will do so soon.

The state has taken steps to help address medical care and personnel needs related to COVID-19. By the end of the week, Texas will begin receiving more personal protective equipment (PPE), including 100,000 masks per week.

To help add to the pool of medical providers, the state has fast-tracked the temporary licensing of out-of-state physicians and physician assistants, as well as certain retired physicians and nurses. Hospitals are also being allowed to increase their capacity without the customary application or fees. To allow patients to consult their doctors without contributing to the spread of COVID-19, telemedicine visits will be covered like in-office visits for any individuals covered by state-regulated insurance plans.

For those who have lost their employment or whose hours have been reduced as a result of the virus, certain regulations related to applying for unemployment insurance have been lifted, including no longer having to wait to apply or be actively searching for employment to be eligible. If you think you may be eligible, but are unsure, visit the Texas Workforce Commission website or contact my office by calling 817-459-2800.

For a full list of regulatory changes to address COVID-19 emergency needs, click here.

If you need guidance about state services related to Medicaid, drivers licenses, car registration, and more, visit Texas.gov.

WHERE TO GO IF YOU NEED HELP OR HAVE HELP TO GIVE
Organizations across our community are working to provide assistance with food, clothing, housing, and counseling. If you are in need of services or are looking for organizations that need your help, a list of local community resources may be found here.

If you are a medical or dental professional with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) available for donation, please consider gifting them to your local hospital or use the State of Texas Portal for COVID-19 donations.

Right now, one of the most important things you can do is to donate blood. The social distancing necessitated by COVID-19 has left blood banks and hospitals at critically low levels. COVID-19 is not blood transmissible, so please consider contacting Carter BloodCare or the American Red Cross to donate today.

AID TO SMALL BUSINESSES
Small business owners in need of help may apply to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program from the U.S. Small Business Administration for a loan of up to $2 million.

DOING OUR PART TO SLOW THE SPREAD
The easiest and most important thing we can do to help slow the spread of COVID-19 is to follow these simple guidelines:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  2. Use hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
  3. Avoid shaking hands and having unnecessary physical contact with others.
  4. Disinfect high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, remotes, phones and light switches.
  5. Do not overbuy when shopping at the grocery store.
  6. Stay at home as much as possible, especially if you are feeling ill.

By staying home, we will keep ourselves and our families healthy.

If there is anything we can do to assist during this difficult time, please call my office at 817-459-2800 or email chris.turner@house.texas.gov. This is one of the most challenging times any of us have ever lived through, but I am fully confident in the strength and resilience of our nation, of Texas and of our North Texas community.

Stay safe.

Joe Biden for President

Today, I am proud to endorse Joe Biden for President. 

If there has been a presidential election in which the stakes are as high as they are this year, I do not know what it is.  From the earliest days of Donald Trump’s presidency, when he imposed a xenophobic travel ban and insisted there were “good people on both sides” in Charlottesville – where one of the “sides” was literally a group of neo-Nazis – to the stunning impeachment trial, Trump has consistently demonstrated he is unfit for the presidency.

Trump is on trial for abusing his power: he withheld aid from another nation in order to get them to manufacture dirt on Joe Biden.  Trump clearly knows the former vice president is the Democrat who poses the greatest threat in November.  That in and of itself is a good reason to support Biden, but it’s far from the only reason.

As a senator and then as vice president, Joe Biden has distinguished himself as an outstanding public servant.  He’s always been a powerful voice for working class Americans.  He passed the Violence Against Women Act.  He took on the NRA – and beat them – to pass the Brady background check bill.  And as President Obama’s right hand for eight years, Joe Biden helped pass the reforms that saved the auto industry, stabilized our economy and brought health insurance to millions of Americans.  His is a record of service and results.

Perhaps most importantly, Joe Biden personifies decency. Our nation has never needed a dose of decency and honesty in the White House as we do right now.

It will take years to undo the damage that Donald Trump has already done to our nation.  I believe Joe Biden is the candidate best qualified to defeat Trump and begin the vital work of restoring decency and integrity to the presidency and making our government work again for the American people.

I respect all of the Democratic candidates who have sought and continue to seek our nomination and know many of them would make a good president.  I am especially appreciative of the campaigns run by Julian Castro and Beto O’Rourke – both represented Texas well on the national stage and have much to contribute to Texas and the country in the years ahead.

Now, as voting nears and the field of remaining candidates narrows, it is time to get behind the candidate who gives us the best opportunity to win in November.  I hope you’ll join me in voting for Joe Biden in the March 3 Texas Democratic Primary.

Back to school

As students and teachers head back to school, I wanted to highlight some of the new laws going into effect following the recent legislative session that will impact students, teachers, parents and taxpayers.

INCREASED FUNDING FOR OUR SCHOOLS
HB 3 is the omnibus bill aimed at addressing our state’s broken school finance system and adding more state funding for our schools. As passed, $4.5 billion was allotted for education reforms and full-day Pre-K. Another $2 billion is earmarked for increased compensation for public school teachers, counselors and librarians. I am proud to have co-authored this legislation and to have written the amendment that helped lead to substantial pay increases for most employees. 

In addition to adding more money to our schools, the bill “buys down” $5 billion in property taxes. However, homeowners will not see much of an impact on their tax bills and what relief you do see will likely be short-lived. A better solution, one supported by House Democrats, would have been to increase the homestead exemption. Doubling the homestead exemption from $25,000 to $50,000 would have saved the average homeowner $325 each year.

RETIRED TEACHERS
Retired teachers also deserve a raise, which is why the Legislature dedicated $589 million for a 13th check averaging $2,000 per retiree. In addition to this extra payment, $524 million was appropriated to make the Teachers’ Retirement System of Texas actuarially sound and another $230.8 million will be spent to keep retired teachers’ healthcare premiums from increasing.

A-F RATINGS
Last week, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released district and school level A-F ratings. Arlington ISD received a B (86%) and Mansfield ISD an A (90%). I congratulate both districts on a great score and the hard work that went into them. That said, these scores simply cannot tell the whole story.

I have had serious concerns since the inception of the A-F system. Like many teachers, parents and school administrators, I believe that the rating system oversimplifies the way schools are evaluated and doesn’t give the full picture of the strides and successes made in our classrooms.

As we’ve seen in at least one case, districts are at risk of being penalized for issues out of their control. At the beginning of the legislative session, I met with AISD about their 2018 grade and how some meaningful data was not counted toward their score, which likely suffered as a result. In response, I filed two measures to fix the issue. Both passed and both go into effect on September 1st. Now, going forward, districts will have access to all data collected in order to confirm that it is correct and complete before a grade is issued by the state.

SCHOOL SAFETY
The tragic shooting at Texas’ Santa Fe High School last year served as a devastating reminder that we must do more to ensure that our school campuses and communities are safe. To provide additional support from the state, the Legislature passed SB 11, which will help add on-campus security personnel, provide avenues for districts to upgrade security and technology, and increase access to school mental health counseling and trauma-informed care.

Hopefully, these reforms will make a real difference for Texas public schools. Our students and teachers deserve nothing less.

To all teachers, students and their family members — best wishes for a successful school year.

Issue Update: The 86th Legislative Session

 The 86th Legislative Session

Click on the graphics for updates from the 86th Legislative Session.

       

          

          

 

 

 

 

 

 

El Paso

On Saturday, 20 people, shopping for groceries and back-to-school supplies, lost their lives in a hate-fueled act of white supremacy and domestic terrorism. It was just reported that two of the more than two dozen wounded in this heinous attack have also died, bringing the number of victims to 22.

And amazingly, though it’s only been 48 hours, El Paso was not our nation’s most recent mass shooting. Thirteen hours later, another nine people would be gunned down in Dayton, Ohio. 

El Paso is a strong community and I know its resolve and spirit are unbreakable.  We need to help our fellow Texans in El Paso as they deal with the aftermath of this terror attack. If you would like to help the victims in El Paso, visit the El Paso Community Foundation’s Shooting Victims Fund by clicking here.

Helping people in need must be our first priority. But the work cannot end there. We have to take action to put an end to mass shootings and the growing white nationalist threat in this country.

Just think: Dallas, Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe and now El Paso. Four mass shootings in Texas in three years and little has changed.

In Washington and in Austin, common-sense gun safety measures have been ignored or defeated. Harmful and hateful rhetoric coming from the White House is nearly always unchallenged by members of the president’s party. There is far too much finger-pointing and deflecting of blame. All while innocent people continue to die, needlessly.

Here in Texas, why won’t our Republican leaders act?

In large part, they are too afraid to stand up to the NRA and the Tea Party. They’re afraid to challenge the powerful gun lobby for fear of being challenged at the ballot box. Instead, they place the blame on mental health or on video games.

Yet, when the opportunity presents itself to do something meaningful to keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them, nothing happens.

Texas needs a Red Flag Law, a measure strongly supported by law enforcement that would help reduce the number of dangerous or unstable people who have access to firearms. In fact, after the Santa Fe massacre, Greg Abbott briefly put Red Flag Laws on the table. Unfortunately, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said he was opposed, so the governor dropped the idea and backed off.

This was a major missed opportunity due to lack of leadership. And this is but one example. 

A few months ago, on his way to school, my 7-year-old godson told his mother, “I like lockdown drills because I like to hide.” What a hard thing to hear from a child. In 1st grade, he should not be preparing for mass murderers, learning to hide from weapons or living in near-constant fear when he’s in his classroom. Unfortunately, however, that has become his generation’s new normal.

We can’t allow this to continue.

Humanitarian crisis in Texas

On Friday, I joined several of my colleagues in Austin for a House committee hearing focused on the humanitarian crisis at our southern border. For six hours, we heard from state agency heads, officials from border counties and representatives from immigrant-rights organizations. We discussed the treatment of detained children, the separation of families and the bleak conditions at many of these facilities, including the lack of access to the most basic needs.

It was apparent that a lack of resources and coordination among federal agencies and other levels of government is in part to blame for these conditions — an issue that I hope was brought more into the light as a result of this hearing. I continue to question, as I did in the hearing, whether Governor Abbott’s recent deployment of 1,000 National Guard to help run detention facilities is the best use of resources.  We heard from city and county officials who are literally on the front lines of this crisis who would benefit tremendously from direct support from the National Guard in particular and the state and federal governments, in general.

Of course, we wouldn’t be having these discussions if the Trump Administration had not handled this entire situation so incompetently from the beginning.  The president’s apparent indifference to this humanitarian crisis is what has rightfully angered so many Americans.   

Saturday, I traveled to Carrizo Springs, located between San Antonio and Laredo, to visit a recently opened migrant shelter currently housing 206 teenagers, with the capacity to house over 1000 more. This facility, run by the US Health and Human Services in partnership with Baptist Children’s and Family Services, is an improvement over the overcrowded and harsh conditions at Border Patrol facilities on our border.

The shelter staff is working to reunite children with their families, with a goal of no one being there more than 30 days. I appreciate the work being done there, and how the facility differs from the horrific conditions at detention centers on the border.

The migrant shelter and the detention centers do share something in common — they are both a symptom of our nation’s overall failure to deal with immigration policy in a comprehensive, effective manner. Until we do, we will continue to pay a human and financial cost.

If you would like to help detainees and others impacted by this humanitarian crisis, click here for a list of opportunities to provide support.

HHSC Strikes (Out) Again

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) is the largest state agency in Texas and one of the largest in the entire nation. The state’s current two-year budget totals $217 billion; HHSC is responsible for about $80 billion of that.  Given the sheer number of dollars involved – and the important programs it oversees – it’s really important the agency is well-run. 

Under former Governor Rick Perry, HHSC was rightfully criticized for bungling huge, multi-million dollar contracts – wasting taxpayer money and sometimes failing to deliver health care services efficiently.  When Governor Greg Abbott took over three years ago, he made a big show of putting his own people in at HHSC and signaling with him in charge, things would be different.

Not so much.  It’s really just more of the same. 

Last Wednesday, Abbott’s HHSC Executive Commissioner, Charles Smith, appeared before House budget writers in response to two more state contracts being mishandled by the agency. 

In an effort to acknowledge the agency’s mistakes, Smith said: “I’m sitting before you because we failed. We let you down. We let the governor down. We let taxpayers down. We let our vendors down. We let our fellow professionals down. Everyone deserves better.”

That same day, the agency’s chief operating officer stepped downTwo days later, the deputy executive commissioner for procurement and contracting services followed and became the fifth departure in two short weeks over this new set of failed contracts that have followed years of contract mismanagement.

The first of this month’s bungled contracts impacts Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) providers servicing rural areas of our state. The agency incorrectly scored potential providers’ applications, resulting in the cancellation of five contracts worth $580 million. If that wasn’t bad enough, it was the competing providers, not internal agency controls, that identified the errors.  Fortunately for CHIP recipients, the contracts were not set to go into effect until September 1, 2018 and current coverage will be extended to prevent a gap in service.

The second set of errors were revealed via a State Auditor’s report outlining problems with a $17.5 million contract from 2016 for the maintenance of the state’s birth and death records database. As with the CHIP contracts, HHSC failed to use the correct methods to score vendor applications. HHSC officials also used incorrect information to award the contract to Genesis Systems, Inc. The errors ultimately led to the database launch being delayed by a year at a cost to taxpayers of an additional $1 million.

These contracting errors are unacceptable. But what is even more unacceptable is what is missing from Smith’s mea culpa to the committee. It’s the millions of Texans — our state’s most vulnerable who rely on programs administered by HHSC — that Smith, our state’s leadership and this agency have let down.

These contracting errors and mistakes have to stop. There is far too much at stake.

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