Last week the public learned that numerous Hurricane Harvey impacted communities would receive portions of a $1 billion HUD CDBG-Mitigation grant authorized by Congress, but a General Land Office (GLO) scoring metric left both the City of Houston and Harris County without a single dollar of the first round of funds despite having incurred at approximately half of the hurricane damage in 2017.
The bewildering exclusion prompted a bipartisan response from 22 Harris County state representatives who signed on to a letter Tuesday urging Bush to reconsider the HUD fund distributions.
Earlier Wednesday, all five members of the Harris County Commissioners Court and all members of the Houston City Council joined County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Mayor Sylvester Turner in signing onto another letter to Bush calling for a reallocation of the mitigation funds “based on the proportionality of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey.”
By Wednesday evening Bush announced his new strategy saying, “I have heard the overwhelming concerns of Harris County regarding the mitigation funding competition.”
After last week’s announcements, staff explained that HUD had required the GLO to prioritize communities with high percentages of low-to-moderate income residents as well as those unable to provide local funding. Applications were also evaluated based on cost per resident, and county officials said the scoring automatically disadvantaged high population jurisdictions.
“The federal government’s red tape requirements and complex regulations are a hallmark of President Biden’s administration. I am no stranger to standing with the people of Texas as we fight against the federal government,” said Bush.
“As such, I have directed the GLO to work around the federal government’s regulations and allocate $750 million for mitigation efforts in Harris County.”
A press release from the GLO explained that the department would be submitting an amendment to the state action plan regarding the administration of the funds to allow for the direct disbursement to Harris County, and that a final mitigation competition for the other 48 eligible counties would be held at a later date.
The GLO also says that the agency’s “hands were tied” while waiting for HUD to publish rules regulating the use of funds, which finally came in August of 2019, two years after Hurricane Harvey but still during the Trump Administration. The scoring criterion used by the GLO was approved in March of 2020.
“We understand the devastation that Hurricane Harvey had on the state of Texas, including Houston and Harris County,” said HUD spokesperson Mike Burns in a statement to The Texan.
“HUD has not prevented Texas from awarding CDBG-MIT funds to Houston or Harris County. The formula for allocation was created by the state of Texas. They have full responsibility and jurisdiction over who gets the money that was allocated to the state for flood mitigation, if HUD approves the action plan amendment, which has not been submitted or approved by the agency. We believe all areas of the state, including Houston and Harris County, should receive the resources they need to recover from Hurricane Harvey.”
Harris County Commissioner Tom Ramsey (R-Pct 3) responded to the Bush announcement saying he was “glad” the GLO was taking his suggestions seriously, but expressed caution.
“It’s progress if it comes to fruition but there’s a long way to go to make sure we receive what was intended by Congress for residents who suffered damage,” Ramsey told The Texan. “I’ll continue to push to make sure the process is accountable to those folks who need help.”
Bush is expected to mount a challenge to Ken Paxton for the Texas Attorney General’s office next year and is reportedly holding a “campaign kick-off rally” on June 2.
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Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.