After bipartisan backlash, Bush says General Lands Office will seek $750 million for Harris County

Following rapid and harsh criticism for an awards process that granted zero dollars in flood mitigation funds in Houston and Harris County, Texas Lands Commissioner Geroge P. Bush announced Wednesday that he is seeking a $750 million direct allocation for Harris County from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Last week, the public learned that many communities impacted by Hurricane Harvey would receive portions of a $1 billion HUD CDBG-Mitigation grant authorized by Congress, but a rating action from the General Land Office (GLO ) left both the city of Houston and Harris County without a single dollar. from the first fundraiser as it suffered about half of the damage caused by the hurricane in 2017.

The baffling exclusion prompted a bipartisan response from 22 Harris County State Representatives who signed a letter on Tuesday urging Bush to reconsider HUD fund distributions.

Earlier Wednesday, the 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 another letter to Bush calling for a reassignment mitigation funds “based on the proportionality of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey.

On Wednesday evening, Bush announced his new strategy, saying, “I’ve heard the overwhelming concerns from Harris County about the mitigation funding competition.”

After last week’s announcements, staff explained that HUD had asked 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 scored on cost per resident, and county officials said the scoring automatically puts jurisdictions with large populations at a disadvantage.

“The administrative requirements and complex regulations of the federal government are the hallmark of President Biden’s administration. I’m no stranger to standing with the people of Texas as we fight against the federal government,” Bush said.

“As such, I have directed the GLO to circumvent federal government regulations and allocate $750 million for mitigation efforts in Harris County.”

A GLO press release explained that the department would submit an amendment to the state’s action plan regarding the administration of funds to allow direct disbursement to Harris County, and that a final mitigation competition for 48 other eligible counties would be held at a later date.

The GLO also says the agency’s “hands were tied” as they waited for HUD to issue rules governing the use of funds, which finally came in August 2019, two years after Hurricane Harvey but still under scrutiny. Trump administration. The scoring criteria used by the GLO was approved in March 2020.

“We understand the devastation Hurricane Harvey had on the State of Texas, including Houston and Harris County,” HUD spokesman Mike Burns said in a statement. The Texan.

“HUD has not stopped Texas from awarding CDBG-MIT funds to Houston or Harris County. The stipend formula was created by the state of Texas. They have full responsibility and jurisdiction over who receives the money that has been allocated to the state for flood mitigation, if HUD approves the action plan amendment, which has not been submitted or agency approved. We believe that 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 Bush’s announcement by saying he was “pleased” the GLO took 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 damages,” Ramsey said. The Texan. “I will continue to push to make sure the process is accountable to the people who need help.”

Bush is expected to issue a challenge to Ken Paxton for the Texas attorney general’s office next year and is would have holding a “campaign kick-off rally” on June 2.

Gregory M. Roy