Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush has called on national leaders to remove restrictions on how Hurricane Harvey disaster recovery funds can be spent, which could allow more money to be spent in Galveston County.
In a letter to members of Texas Congressional delegation sent on Oct. 18, Bush wrote he was asking the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to waive or change rules on how $4.4 billion in disaster recovery grants can be spent when they arrive in Texas.
Bush asked for federal leaders’ support in changing the funding rules.
The $4.4 billion allocation to Texas was announced in April. It’s part of a $28 billion aid package that Congress approved in February.
The grants could be used to rebuild or elevate damaged homes, to repair infrastructure, to buy frequently flooded properties or to harden structures against flood damage.
The Texas General Land Office, which Bush has led since 2015, is in charge of managing Texas’ long-term recovery from Hurricane Harvey. The storm ravaged the state in August 2017.
A different $5 billion award, made in November, drew criticism from county leaders because of restrictions on how the money could be spent.
Federal rules that require most of the aid money to be spent in ways that benefit low- and moderate-income people would make it difficult to do large scale flood-mitigation projects with the county’s allocation of Hurricane Harvey funds, local officials argue.
Among other things, Bush’s letter asked that the income requirements be eased. He also asked the housing department to allow funds to be used on flood mitigation projects in locations “upstream” of places directly affected by a disaster, and to allow more than six years to complete grant-funded recovery projects.
“These recommendations will not only help the residents of the Texas coast, but will reduce future federal costs,” Bush wrote.
Federal rules that determine how the disaster funding is used are “irregular” and “archaic,” Bush wrote.
Bush’s letter appears to address some of the problems county leaders had with the rules applying to the first round of funding.
County leaders said they were happy to see Bush’s letter.
“This is the first attempt that we have seen for the land office to give us flexibility,” Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said.
In August, Henry published a letter asking Bush to step in and change the plans the land office had proposed for spending the first round of recovery funding. Bush’s letter doesn’t address the earlier allocations, but does appear to recognize the objections made in August.
Galveston County Commissioner Ken Clark, who has pushed the idea of removing or changing the income requirements, called Bush’s letter a good thing and said he was cautiously optimistic about what kind of changes it could lead to.
“It’s good to see them moving in this direction,” Clark said
Bush and the land office need to show some follow-through on their seriousness about the proposal, Clark said, noting that Bush is in the midst of a re-election campaign for his position at the land office.
The two rounds of funding have guaranteed about $10 billion in disaster recovery money for the state, which is far less than the estimated damage caused by the storm, and far less than state leaders have asked for to make repairs and improvements to Texas infrastructure.
Harvey caused an estimated $120 billion in damage in Texas.
Gov. Greg Abbott in October last year requested $61 billion in disaster funding for dozens of repair and recovery projects.