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Biden Heads To Texas To Assess Winter Storm Relief Efforts

Biden is meeting with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other leaders to assess further federal assistance to the state.

President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and first lady Jill Biden traveled to Houston, Texas, Friday morning after the extreme winter weather earlier this month left millions without power, water or heat for days.

Biden will spend a large portion of the day with Republican Gov. Greg W. Abbott to assess additional ways the federal government can offer assistance. The president has already declared states of emergency for Texas and Oklahoma, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is distributing supplies including generators, food and water.

Deputy National Security Adviser Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall told press aboard Air Force One that the federal government had already directed over $9 million in assistance to Texans as of Thursday.

“Although we’re encouraged by the progress that has been made, and we’re seeing the numbers come down dramatically right now in terms of who needs to still go and boil water in Texas, we will continue to look for ways to help through this next phase of recovery,” Sherwood-Randall said.

A volunteer loads a case of water into a car during a water distribution event at the Astros Youth Academy on February 20, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Much of Texas is still struggling after historic cold weather, power outages and a shortage of water after a winter storm. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The trip marks Biden’s first visit as president to the site of a natural disaster. Though Texas was the hardest hit state, many suffered throughout the region from the extreme cold that froze pipes and taxed power grids.

Some Texas residents saw their power bills skyrocket to thousands of dollars in the wake of the storm.

“There isn’t a federal authority to regulate that,” Sherwood-Randall said when pressed on the high costs, but added that there is “some capacity” for the federal government to assist.

Asked whether the issue of the state’s autonomous energy grid will come up in discussion with Gov. Abbot, she said the focus of the visit will be to hear from emergency responders. Biden will tour the Harris County Emergency Operations Center to take lessons for future responses.

Pike Electric service trucks line up after a snow storm on February 16, 2021 in Fort Worth, Texas. The winter storm brought historic cold weather and power outages to Texas. (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

During a visit the Houston Food Bank, the first lady plans to assist volunteers with their relief work. The president and first lady will also visit a Covid-19 vaccination site at NRG Stadium.

“This is an example of the kind of partnerships between federal, state, and local governments and public and private partners that is going to get this job done,” Biden said of the mass vaccination site.

Biden also plans to meet with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and several Texas congressional representatives.

“[The President] views it as an issue where he’s eager to get relief, to tap into all the resources in the federal government, to make sure the people of Texas know we’re thinking about them, we’re fighting for them, and we’re going to continue working on this as they’re recovering,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki during a Thursday briefing.

(Edited by Kristen Butler and Carlin Becker)