By GILBERT HOFFMAN
State Representative Armando Walle held a virtual Town Hall last Thursday night, by way of Facebook Live on the Internet. About 30 persons joined the session, to listen and chat. The session lasted for over an hour.
Walle covered legislation that affected conditions in his district, Texas HD140. He started by reviewing the accomplishments in the last session, the 86th that met in 2019. The next session, which occurs every two years, is due to start on January 12 of next year. The session will last 140 days, and set a state budget for the next two years.
Walle said that much of the focus in that session was on mitigating flooding, since Hurricane Harvey had just devastated much of the Gulf Coast counties. Locally severe flooding occurred in District 140, as well as other parts of Houston and Harris County. Because Walle sits on the Budget committee, he was able to help get aid for local neighborhoods. $13 million was appropriated for flood relief in Kingwood, for instance, and also help for HCC and Lone Star College. In all, the legislature voted $2.1 Billion for Harvey relief, and an additional $1.8 Billion for other flood mitigation.
The total two year budget that passed was about $250 Billion. As a member of the budget committee, Walle helped pass $6.5 Billion for public schools, of which $2 Billion went for teachers’ raises, and all-day Pre-School.
Another priority for Walle was support and funding for parks within the district. He was able to get dollars for rehab, maintenance and expansion of the area parks. These included $3 Million for Squatty Lyons Park (with matching funds from the city), $1 Million for Keith-Wiess park so that it could connect with the East Aldine Town Center, $1 Million for Melrose Park (with a match from Pct. 1 Rodney Ellis), and $1.5 Million for construction of an AllInclusive rehab of James Drive Park.
Walle also sits on the important Redistricting Committee, which will be drawing new lines to define districts for 3 new Congressmen for the site of Texas, expected from the 2020 Census.
Next Walle spoke at length about the COVID-19 pandemic, and how it had affected every aspect of life. As appointed Recovery Czar for Harris County, he said he spends a great deal of time meeting and helping resolve public health issues. He explained how COVID had affected Food insecurity, Housing stability, and the so-called Digital Divide, where families don’t have internet or don’t have enough devices for everyone that needs them. Government funds for free lunches, and rental assistance have helped the former, and a county program to provide $30 million toward digital facilities has helped. He noted that in Aldine, 80% of the children qualify for food assistance or free lunches.
Walle said that twice a week he is on a conference call with healthcare leaders in the county, planning ways to combat or alleviate the virus. He noted that cases of the virus are still high, that the Texas Medical Center reported a 9% increase in admissions since last week, and the rate of positive cases is currently 8.4%, much too high.
When the 87th Legislative Session starts in January, Walle says the priorities will be Food Insecurity, Housing Stability, Public Health, and Consumer Protection. Although the state income is down, due to the pandemic, he thinks it can be made up by using reserve funds and additional federal programs.
Food Security issues include funding Food Banks, and streamlining the SNAP program to improve work requirements and job training. For Housing Security, Walle would require that apartment tenants be informed of flood dangers, and ban evictions during disasters and public health emergencies. In Public Health he would pass strict controls on Concrete plants, expand Medicaid coverage for mothers, and accept federal monies to get a 90/10 share of funds in the ACA program. Consumer Protection legislation would limit payday lenders’ collection practices, and bar negative credit reporting due to COVID.
Walle acknowledged each participant at the Town Hall by name, and answered many of their chat questions or comments. The format of using Facebook Live seemed to work quite well, and no doubt Walle will use this for reports from Austin in the next few months.