HOUSTON - Hurricane victims promised emergency food assistance took home heaps of frustration from Duessen Park Wednesday. Politicians pointed fingers. Others caught in between wondered if all of the people lining up for help are truly storm victims.
With the deadline extended until Friday, there was a scramble starting early Wednesday morning. By the afternoon, traffic was backed up for miles. Many waited in cars for hours to make it into the park.
A spokesperson with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission says they knew there would be a surge of applicants with the deadline extension, but despite being well prepared, they didn’t expect Wednesday's confusion.
They said the traffic issues were out of their control.
“That would be something for the city and the county. They’re actively working on it to figure out how best to control the traffic flow. Once [people] get inside the park, it’s less than an hour wait,” said Wayne Salter, Associate Commissioner, Texas Health and Human Services.
On his cell phone, John Longoria interviewed people leaving the DSNAP registration site. He wondered how easy it was for families to get benefits. Frustrated by traffic two-miles long clogging roads around his home in the Summerwood subdivision, Longoria suspected many applying for the emergency food program do not qualify.
“But I met mostly people who needed help,” he said. “The takeaway was that there are people who need help and everybody is frustrated.”
However, when KHOU 11 News asked Harris County Judge Ed Emmett he suggested other means to help victims instead of DSNAP.
“It’s become just a government giveaway as opposed to targeting people who really need help,” Judge Emmett said.
After 15 days of DSNAP registration in five different areas of Harris County, Governor Abbott urged the judge to extend the deadline and invite victims to Duessen Park, Emmett said. The judge agrees there are still people in need. He believe DSNAP invites fraud.
“There is no hurdle (to clear in the application process),” he said. “It’s not even low. When I brought that up with the state, Charles Smith, who administers the program for the state said well if people have obtained these cards fraudulently then that’s something for the inspector general to do after the fact.”
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee visited the application site and simply saw people in need in the park, she told KHOU 11 News. She also blamed Judge Emmett for choosing a site that caused congestion and confusion.
“I would hope that the county leadership would see that there is a need,” Jackson-Lee said. “There are seniors living in their homes with mold. It is because seniors don’t like moving. We’re going through with an inventory trying to help them. They have major expenses. That is what the disaster food program is about.”
To accommodate the thousands of applicants, the state increased manpower and sign-up spots inside the park to make the process smoother. There are four on-site locations inside Deussen Park for anyone who wanted to apply.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee says additional police officers will be at Deussen Park to direct traffic Thursday as well. Officials will also open up a bus lane, so the free shuttles can access the park quickly.
Lee blasted Harris County Judge Ed Emmett for not designating more application sites when the deadline was extended.
“It is a two-lane park. It is for fun and recreation. It’s for people coming in leisurely. It’s not for people coming in desperate from Hurricane Harvey, who are coming in their cars,” said Lee.
Judge Emmett answered the accusations Wednesday afternoon. He says people who really need help have already had a chance to apply for assistance.
“Since we only had between 100-150,000 homes impacted, not even totally destroyed in Harris County, the fact that 300,000 homes have already gotten these cards indicates that something is going on,” said Emmett.
Emmett says he will not designate any additional D-SNAP application sites.
Deussen Park will be open through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Free Metro shuttle rides will operate from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.