A Houston Chronicle investigation found some of the counties most affected by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 received none of $1 billion in federal disaster aid distributed by the state.
Chronicle reporter Zach Despart told Texas Standard a disproportionate amount of the money went to less affected inland counties instead of Nueces County, where the storm made landfall near Port Aransas; Jefferson County, where the most rain fell in Port Arthur; and much of Harris County, where parts of Houston was underwater for days.
“Texas steered money to counties that actually have a lower risk of disasters by the state’s own measurement of how disasters occur,” Despart said. “And perhaps the most stunning thing we found was that counties with the highest risk of natural disasters were actually less likely to get this disaster aid.”
The Texas General Land Office, or GLO, which was responsible for distributing the money, claimed it was hamstrung by federal rules about where the money could go. But Despart says his investigation found otherwise.
“We read those guidelines and we also looked at what other states did with the same pot of money to distribute among their communities. And we found that states had wide discretion in deciding what rules, what criteria they’re going to use,” he said.
There were initially 20 counties designated as disaster areas eligible for federal money. Texas added 29 other counties that were mostly inland and faced less risk for disasters. Despart says that increased competition for the money.
Now, he says the GLO is asking the feds for permission to give $750 million directly to Harris County. County officials are pleased, but say the money would only go so far.
“They don’t think it’s enough; they were hoping for $1 billion of their own. This also does nothing to give any money to the city of Houston; it would do nothing to get money to the other counties that got snubbed,” he said.