Drought pushes disaster declarations

AUSTIN—A month-long weather system producing triple-digit temperatures and no rain has much of Texas suffering.

The high-pressure system centered over Texas caused Gov. Rick Perry to declare 167 counties disaster areas because of the threat of wildfires. Bastrop County in Central Texas lost 12,000 head of cattle to the drought, and Texas farmers are facing more than $1 billion in losses this year.

Of f icials w it h Texas A&M University's AgriLife Extension Service said farmers who depend only on rainfall could lose up to 80 percent of their crops.

Farmers and ranchers looking for disaster relief from the federal government will have to wait until fall to receive payment for last year's losses. Aid for this year's losses won't be available until 2010.

Nearly 20 percent of the state is experiencing the most extreme drought conditions. Central and South Texas are suffering through the worst drought conditions in the nation.

The worst drought in recent times was from 1950 to 1957, when rainfall was 40 percent below normal levels and 90 percent of the state was declared a federal disaster area.

Sweepstakes scam

Attorney General Greg Abbott is alerting Texans to a clever sweepstakes scam. People are told by phone that they are being contacted by the Federal Trade Commission because they won hundreds of thousands of dollars in a sweepstakes contest. In order to collect, however, they must pay several thousand dol- lars in insurance costs.

The phone calls are followed by a letter with the FTC logo telling recipients where to send a check. The phone number on the letterhead directs callers to the scammers, who pretend to work for the FTC. In fact, the FTC never collects money from consumers.

Abbott said anyone receiving the scam calls and letters should contact his office at 1-800-252- 8011 or the FTC at 1-877-FTCHELP.

New DPS chief named

Steve McCraw, 55, was named the new head of the Texas Department of Public Safety by Governor Perry.

McCraw, a former member of the FBI, was Perry's homeland security chief for the past five years.

McCraw takes over an agency in the spotlight for recent problems, including its role in guarding the Governor's Mansion in Austin when it was burned in an arson fire in June 2008. He is the department's fourth director in less than a year.

New A&M president sought

Texas A&M System regents have named a 15-member search committee to seek a new president for the College Station campus.

Former President Elsa Murano, A&M's first female and first Hispanic president, resigned under pressure last month.

The search committee includes three regents, five faculty members, two students and five other stakeholders. Regent Richard Box will serve as chairman. The committee will cull the applicants to three finalists and recommend one to the board next February.

Students narrow math gap

A national test found that the difference in math scores between black and white students in Texas closed somewhat between 1992 and 2007.

Texas was one of only four states that narrowed the math gap among eighth-grade students and one of 15 states that did so among fourth-grade students.

For eighth-graders, the difference in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress math test was 26 points nationally. In Texas, the gap was 23 points. For fourth-graders, the national average was 31 points and the Texas average was 29 points.

The NEAP test also found that scores on the math test rose for students of all races in Texas over the 15-year period.

Jobless money running out

The Texas unemployment insurance trust fund is going broke quickly, and the state will have to borrow $643 million from the U.S. Department of Labor soon.

Those borrowed funds will cover unemploy ment claims through October 1, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

About 285,000 Texans remained on unemploy ment compensation through June 27, according to a commission offi- cial. That was triple the number receiving benefits during the same period last year.

Governor Perry rejected $556 million in federal stimulus funds to expand unemployment benefits, saying too many strings were attached.

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