Texas General Land Office Says It “Not Feasible” To Request $ 750 Million In Federal Flood Aid Within 30 Days

County officials say 40% of the $ 125 billion in damage from Hurricane Harvey occurred in Harris County. (Shawn Arrajj / Community Impact Journal)

The Texas General Land Office said it was “not feasible” to draft an amendment to the action plan that would include a request for $ 750 million in federal flood relief funds – a move that comes after Houston area officials have requested a 30-day delay for the flooding. – mitigation funds.

The GLO announced that Harris County would receive nothing from the Hurricane Harvey Flood Mitigation Fund on May 20. However, on May 26, GLO Commissioner George P. Bush requested a direct allocation of $ 750 million from Harris County for flood mitigation projects from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In a letter sent on June 11, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner called on U.S. Housing Secretary Marcia Fudge to ensure that Bush formally asks for the $ 750 million. dollars of funds within 30 days.

Since this case involves funds allocated in February 2018, the rules were enacted in August 2019 and the hurricane season has already started for 2021, the HUD is expected to require the GLO to submit this amendment within the next 30 days. “wrote Hidalgo and Turner. in the letter.

However, Brittany Eck, GLO’s director of communications, said in a June 14 email that it was not possible to submit the action plan within 30 days to HUD. She said the document needs to be translated into five languages ​​first, and then the GLO will begin the public hearing period, which typically runs for 45 days, and respond to comments before sending the plan to HUD. However, Eck later said in a June 15 email that public hearings are not necessary for substantial changes. Instead, the GLO must open up public comments and issue responses, which typically takes 30 days.

According to the Federal Register, where the HUD publishes rules on disaster fund distributions, “a substantial amendment is not subject to the public hearing requirements for the initial course of action.” While consolidated three to five year plans and annual action plans require public hearings before being submitted, the changes do not.

“Because the [Community Development Block Grant for] The mitigation program is new, the GLO would have regular calls with the HUD to discuss the action plan, ”GLO Chief Clerk Mark Havens said in a letter to the Houston congressional delegation. “It is important to note that, unlike the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery, the HUD did not allow the damage from Hurricane Harvey to be used as an allocation measure for CDBG-[Mitigation] funding.”

The Harris County Flood Control District originally predicted that $ 2 billion would be allocated and split between the county and Houston. County officials said they believed the GLO initially allocated no funding to Harris County because the bureau’s rating measures discriminated against large urban areas. Counties with higher land values ​​and smaller populations scored higher for aid, as previously reported by Community impact journal.

Delay flood projects

Bill Kelly, director of government relations in the mayor’s office in Houston, said the damage from Hurricane Harvey could be used as a measure of the distribution of funds. The HUD field office in Houston did not respond at time of publication to verify whether the Texas GLO could use the damage from Hurricane Harvey as a fund allocation measure.

“More than 40% of the funds awarded under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Risk Mitigation Grant program have gone to the City of Houston and Harris County. Zero dollar from CDBG-[Mitigation] funds have been allocated to Harris County and the City of Houston under the distribution of GLO, ”Hidalgo and Turner wrote in the letter.

Of all the counties damaged by Hurricane Harvey, 40% of the $ 125 billion in damage occurred in Harris County, as previously reported by Community impact journal. According to Hidalgo and Turner, 35 of Harvey’s total 68 deaths also occurred in Harris County, and as hurricane season sets in again, Kelly said he was concerned any funding delay could affect negatively the residents of Harris County.

“It’s literally going to delay the implementation of projects, and that’s the bottom line,” Kelly said. “Then people are going to have to go through another hurricane season. “

After adopting a $ 2.5 billion flood bond program in 2018, Harris County now finds itself with a $ 1.4 billion deficit, as previously reported by Community impact journal. Hidalgo and Turner said the $ 750 million would not be enough and asked Fudge to treat the upfront funding as a “down payment.”

“The legacy of redlining and other discriminatory housing practices has clustered many communities of color in flood-prone areas, which have subsequently not received adequate investments in mitigation infrastructure to protect these communities from future flooding, ”Hidalgo and Turner wrote in the letter. “Significant additional investment… is needed to properly protect the residents of Harris County and the City of Houston who are most susceptible to flooding and are least able to recover. ”

Gregory M. Roy