Capital Highlights: Snow, ice, single-digit temps blanket the state

Gary Borders

Texans from Lubbock to Longview shivered under single-digit temperatures as their week began, with snow and ice creating dangerous road conditions throughout the state. Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for all 254 Texas counties and urged residents to stay alert to changing weather conditions. The Texas Division of Emergency Management deployed resources from various state agencies to prepare roadways, assist motorists, remove downed trees and perform search-and-rescue operations if necessary.

State officials with both the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and the Public Utility Commission asked residents to conserve as much power as possible due to the record demand for electricity caused by the record low temperatures. 

“The lowest temperatures Texas has seen in decades necessitate a shared response across the state, from households to factories,” said PUC chairman DeAnn Walker. “Along with the tools ERCOT uses to maintain the reliability of the grid, common-sense conservation also plays a critical role in our state’s endurance of this challenge.”

Take precautions when using space heaters

The harsh weather, which in much of the state could continue until the weekend, means more Texans are relying on space heaters. “But be cautious,” said Orlando Hernandez, the state fire marshal. “In the past few years, several fatal Texas fires were started by space heaters.” 

Hernandez offered four tips for space heater safety:

• Inspect a heater before you use it. Make sure there are no cracked or broken plugs or loose connections.

• Plug space heaters directly into a wall outlet.

• Keep your space heater at least three feet from anything that can burn.

• Turn off your space heaters before you leave the room or go to bed. Look for models that shut off automatically when tipped over.

About 80% of home heating fire fatalities nationally involve space heaters, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

More than 1 million Texans fully vaccinated

The state passed the 1 million mark of Texans who have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. More than 2.8 million have received the first dose. 

The state, as it did last week, is receiving more than 400,000 doses. The vaccine is being shipped from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to 302 providers in 158 counties. In addition, the federal government has shipped 80,000 doses across the state to 376 pharmacies, including CVS, H-E-B, Walmart and a group of independent pharmacies. Details of the allocations are available on the DSHS vaccine allocations page (https://tinyurl.com/1klvcfip).

The number of new cases of COVID-19 continues to drop, with 73,888 reported statewide last week, down more than 50% from the record high of nearly 159,000 recorded Jan. 10-16. However, weekly fatalities continue to hover just below 2,000, not far below the record high of 2,311 set the week of Jan. 17.

COVID-19 rental relief program unveiled

Renters hard hit by the pandemic with job losses now can seek relief through the Texas Rent Relief Program, which rolled out Monday, Feb. 15. More than $1 billion has been allocated to Texas through the latest COVID-19 federal stimulus bill to assist tenants in paying rent and utilities. It will be administered by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

To qualify, households must be at or below 80% of the area median income. Preference will be given to households with income below 50% of the area median income, and households where one or more members have been unemployed for at least 90 days.

Applications can be submitted online at TexasRentRelief.com, or by calling 1-833-9TX-RENT (1-833-989-7368) from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday. 

Deadline nears for Texas Tuition Promise Fund

Texas parents have until the end of February to enroll their children in the state’s prepaid college tuition fund. Enrollment for children under 1 year continues through July 31. The Texas Tuition Promise Fund allows parents to lock in current undergraduate tuition rates and fees at the state’s public colleges and universities. 

Earnings from money placed in the fund are tax free. The next enrollment period begins on Sept. 1. For more information, go to https://www.texastuitionpromisefund.com/.

Texas ranked top exporting state for 19th straight year

Once again, the Lone Star State leads the nation in exports. Its $279.3 billion in exports outpaced California and New York combined. The state also led the United States in tech exports for the eighth straight year. 

“Texas’ exporting prowess is a testament to our business-friendly climate, strong trade partnerships, and most of all, the millions of hard-working Texans in communities across our state,” Gov. Abbott said in a news release. 

Petroleum-related products dominated the top 10 list of exports, occupying six of those spots, according to the Census Bureau.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.