Port Arthur, Texas — Sitting on a sheet of fresh plywood atop a newly rebuilt roof, Joaquin Rojas thanked the heavens for all the help he had received to repair his El Buen Pastor church after Hurricane Rita.
The pastor was not praising the generosity of President Bush or other Washington politicians.
Rather, he was expressing gratitude that good-hearted fellow Christians from Michigan traveled to Texas and volunteered to piece together his broken church.
"What's happening here is because of other churches, not because of the government," Rojas said in Spanish. "Those missionaries from Michigan, I thank the Lord for them."
Six months after Hurricane Rita delivered a wallop to a Gulf Coast region already socked by Hurricane Katrina, life is slowly returning to normal in the blue-collar oil and gas towns of southeastern Texas, where more than 70,000 houses were damaged or destroyed by 120 mph winds.
Even here in the president's home state, a consensus is that progress is being made in spite of the federal government, not because of it.
"We need some compassionate conservatism," said Mark Viator, a chemical company official serving as chairman of the Southeast Texas Recovery Coalition, a group of area leaders that has been lobbying Washington for assistance.
Some Texas officials are convinced the state has become a victim of hurricane politics, neglected by the White House perhaps to avoid accusations of favoritism.
Others complain that Republicans in Congress and in the Bush administration, many of them Texans, have taken a rigid ideological stand against compensating hurricane losses not covered by insurance, including the millions of dollars utilities have spent to restore basic water and electricity.
Federal officials counter that the truth is more mundane. Compared with the calamity Katrina caused in Mississippi and Louisiana, Rita's toll in Texas was smaller and commands less attention - especially because the state is well on the road to recovery.
Many in Texas are particularly upset by the relative lack of federal funding flowing into the state. Politicians note that, minutes across the state line, parts of rural Louisiana hit hard by Rita have received more money.
While Texas politicians complain about aid and reimbursement, FEMA officials rattle off statistics to show that Texas has made progress more quickly than other hurricane-damaged states.
Rita's winds reportedly felled 25 percent of all trees in some heavily wooded parts of eastern Texas. But 99 percent of the debris has been cleaned up. Of the 4,500 Texans who requested temporary trailers, 3,880 have received them. Blue tarps have been installed on 21,000 damaged homes. The federal Small Business Administration has provided Texans with $157 million in loans, and FEMA has spent close to $500 million assisting individuals.
In contrast to much of Louisiana, FEMA officials contend, Texas has advanced from the initial crisis stage of hurricane relief and is on the path to long-term recovery.