OPINION

Capital highlights: State's population gains and losses are detailed

GARY BORDERS

The U.S. Census Bureau has released is sub-county population estimates from April 2010 to July 2020. That includes population estimates for the 1,200 incorporated places in Texas.

Gary Borders

Nine additional Texas towns were incorporated in the past decade, while 13 additional cities surpassed a population of 50,000.

The Texas Demographic Center reported that of the 71 Texas cities with populations of more than 50,000, only two lost population — continuing the trend of smaller towns and areas in the state losing population to larger cities. More than 55% of the state’s population growth has been in cities with more than 50,000 residents.

Small and mid-sized cities surrounding major metropolitan areas, such as Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and Houston, saw the fastest growth rates, while many of the cities in West Texas and the Panhandle were among the 372 Texas cities that lost population, according to TDC. 

Emergency food benefits extended

Benefits for families under a federal nutrition plan have been increased through September, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced last week.

Under the American Rescue Plan signed by President Biden in March, states can provide eligible families up to $35 per month to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. Clients of the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program are eligible. 

“Texas WIC provides foods that have great nutritional value — providing key nutrients at key stages of development,” Texas WIC Director Edgar Curtis said. “This nutritional support early in life builds stronger, smarter, healthier and happier children and Texans. Fresh fruits and vegetables, which are loaded with vitamins and other plant-based nutrients, are at the forefront of that strategy.”

The HHSC also announced it is providing roughly $208 million in emergency food benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, extending the maximum SNAP benefits allowable through June. All SNAP recipients will get a minimum of $95 in emergency allotment, in addition to the 15% increase that continues through September.

The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by HHSC.

State to release $5 billion in school federal aid

Months after congressional action on a coronavirus relief package, the Texas Education Agency announced Friday that school districts may begin applying for their portion of $5 billion in aid.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, how much each district will receive varies. Districts that saw large enrollment declines because of the pandemic will likely not receive as much money, because TEA will divert some of the funds to make up for funding provided at pre-pandemic levels.

Much of public-school funding in Texas is based on average daily attendance. However, during the 2020-2021 school year, districts were not penalized when students stayed home. 

Experts: Weatherization bill falls short

The Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 3 in response to February’s deadly storm and widespread failure of power plants. The package addresses the problems that threaten electric reliability, but public radio’s Texas Standard reports that many electric grid experts and policy analysts say not enough has been done to prevent another blackout disaster. 

One section of SB3 allows regulators to determine what portions of the natural gas supply must be weatherized. Since it only applies to equipment that directly connects to power plants, experts say it might not be enough.

Dan Cohan, civil engineering professor at Rice University, told the Standard that “whoever has those direct lines into the power plants and winterizes those is going to point upstream and say ‘well those upstream people couldn’t get us enough gas.’ So yeah, it’s hard to see how this is going to provide us full coverage.”

In addition, critics say the penalties of $5,000 a day for not doing the required weatherization amount to little more than a rounding error for non-complying oil and gas companies.

GOP chairman resignation sparks speculation

Texas Republican Party chairman Allen West resigned Friday, sparking speculation he is considering a statewide race.

The Republican party issued a statement that West “will take this opportunity to prayerfully reflect on a new chapter in his already distinguished career.” West has not ruled out challenging Gov. Greg Abbott, who last week touted a re-election endorsement from former President Trump.

COVID-19 cases dropping; 36% fully vaccinated

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Texas continues to drop, with 9,534 reported as of Sunday for the previous week — a small fraction of mid-January’s record high of nearly 159,000.

In the past week, 210 deaths from COVID-19 in Texas were reported, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. That is also a decrease. 

The number of Texans fully vaccinated stands at 10.5 million, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, or about 36% of the state’s population. The number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized dropped nearly a fifth from the previous week, to 1,504, according to DSHS.

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.