Harris County Declared Federal Disaster Area in Wake of Imelda; State Taking Control of Disaster Mitigation Funding
On October 1st, Governor Greg Abbott sent a disaster-request letter to President Trump in response to the damage caused by Tropical Storm Imelda. The 31-page letter to President Trump lays out the case for Federal aid. It also includes an impressive catalog of storm-related damages.
The thirteen counties impacted by Tropical Storm Imelda (Imelda) are still recovering from previous disasters, including Hurricane Harvey. The population of the counties affected by Imelda exceeds 7.59 million people. That represents more than a quarter of the state’s population.
Six Counties Declared Disaster Area
Abbott requested a Presidential Disaster Declaration for the six counties in the Gulf Coast region that sustained severe flooding. Today, the President granted Governor Abbott’s request.
That means Individual Assistance for those in Chambers, Harris, Jefferson, Liberty, Montgomery, and Orange counties will now become available. The Governor’s press release states that “Individual Assistance includes up to $35,500 per household for damages sustained during the severe weather.”
“This means that even if people did not have flood insurance, they may receive financial aid and low-cost SBA loans,” said Kaaren Cambio, staff assistant for Congressman Dan Crenshaw.
GLO Designated to Lead Disaster Mitigation Efforts
In a separate statement, the Governor announced that Commissioner George P. Bush and the Texas General Land Office will lead the State’s comprehensive disaster mitigation program. Bush will direct more than $4 billion in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Block Grant for Mitigation (CDBG-MIT).
The program will prioritize large-scale, regional projects that increase the state’s resilience to disasters statewide, protect lives and mitigate against future hurricanes and other natural disasters. Bush says he will focus on projects that benefit the most Texans. That means “prioritizing regional partnerships to protect Texans from future storms.”
On August 23, 2019, HUD released mandatory rules for the use of more than $4.3 billion in funding for mitigation projects. They covered money appropriated by Congress on February 9, 2018. Before the GLO could begin drafting a state action plan, those rules had to be published in the Federal Register. The GLO has already begun drafting the plan. It should take approximately nine months or more to complete, at which time, the GLO can send it to HUD for approval.
In total, HUD allocated $4,383,085,000 in CDBG-MIT funds to Texas. Altogether, 140 Texas counties are eligible for some part of this allocation of funding for 2015, 2016, and 2017 (Hurricane Harvey) disasters.
ABC13 Says Choice of GLO Was Response to Slow Pace of Recovery
Ted Oberg of ABC13 News reported today that Abbott tapped the GLO because the City of Houston and Harris County were not moving fast enough with their flood mitigation efforts. The article’s headline says, “Slow pace costs Houston, Harris County control of flood money.” It begins, “Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has taken notice of Houston’s slow-moving progress with its Harvey recovery program.”
“Houston and Harris County’s lack of movement on Harvey housing recovery is the reason the city and county will not get a direct allocation. Victims need this money. That’s why this will go through GLO,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman told 13 Investigates’ Ted Oberg.
In the Mayoral Debate on Wednesday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said that the city had received $1.3 billion for home repair and recovery.
Oberg reported in June, 2019, that only four people received housing aid as of that date, despite private companies being paid millions to operate the program. Oberg says that the City’s latest figures show that since then, only an additional 11 people have received financial assistance, despite more than 16,400 homeowners expressing interest in it.
As of August 1, of the 4,900 people that the City invited to apply for its federally-funded Homeowner Assistance Programs, less than half submitted an application.
Reaction from Local Officials
According to Oberg, Mayor Sylvester Turner said, “It’s on them now.”
Judge Lina Hidalgo said in a statement to 13 Investigates. “While we’re disappointed in Governor Abbott’s decision to run this program out of Austin instead of providing us local control, we’ll continue to work as a team to make sure we apply every single federal dollar available towards building a stronger, safer Harris County.”
Questions Still Remain
It’s still unclear to me at this hour how the GLO’s focus on large scale mitigation projects affects individual homeowners seeking financial assistance. They seem to tap two different pots of money. But they also seem to have been conflated by the reporting on this issue. Let’s hope that the state can speed things up on both fronts. Flooded homeowners need help immediately, not three years after the disaster.
Need to Re-engineer Disaster Mitigation is NOT in Question
As I’ve stated before, we need to re-engineer the whole disaster mitigation business. Sometimes fewer people, not more, can get results faster.
Harris County’s Final Harvey report stated: “Based on house flooding assessments, the estimated total number of homes flooded within Harris County is 154,170.” That only 15 homeowners have received HUD financial assistance more than two years after Harvey is an indictment of the whole crazy system that has evolved.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/3/2019
766 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 15 since Imelda