The state of Texas is distributing $1 billion in federal aid to areas hit hardest by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. But the General Land Office – the agency in charge of distributing those funds – notified Houston and Harris County leaders they’ve been allotted none of the funding they expected to get.
Zach Despart has been following this story for the Houston Chronicle. He told Texas Standard that the money is part of a $4 billion appropriation made by Congress in 2018 for Harvey relief and flood mitigation. The General Land Office, or GLO – a state agency led by Land Commissioner George P. Bush – is in charge of deciding how the federal funds should be distributed. The criteria GLO used to determine which counties and cities receive money from the federal funding is based on the percentage of people in an area who would benefit, versus the total number of residents in that jurisdiction.
“Where this gets tricky, and disadvantages populous areas, is that Harris County has 4.7 million. People,” Despart said. “So that is your denominator when you’re making this calculation. Any project you’re going to have is going to score very poorly on that.”
Harris County scored extremely well in another criterion, but lost out because of the population ratio.
Harris County politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, have pointed out that the largest county in the state, which is home to Houston, “has more people than the other 48 eligible counties for this money,” Despart said. “And yet, we got 9% of the funding that’s been allocated.”
Through a spokesperson, Bush said on Friday that the formula for allocating the money was determined by the federal government. Despart says the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, told the Chronicle that isn’t the case – that states can decide funding specifics.
Harris County passed a $2.5 billion flood mitigation bond in 2018, with leaders assuring voters that federal money could add to the projects the bond would allow the county to complete. County and Houston city officials are appealing directly to HUD in an attempt to regain federal funds, whether as part of this appropriation or from another source.