Letter from Gov. Abbott criticizes way Houston leaders are spending Harvey recovery funds

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HOUSTON – Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he and more than 50 mayors and county judges wrote a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott asking for future help recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

"There was nothing in the letter that said, 'Governor, you haven't done this or you haven't done that,'" Turner said.

But Turner said the response he got back from the governor’s office was not what he expected.

"The tone was certainly very disappointing. I am just going to simply say I think a staffer wrote it and did not reflect the sentiments of the governor," Turner said.

A spokesperson for Abbott said the governor did sign off on the letter.

The letter said, "...it has come to my attention that of the $50 million loaned to the City of Houston from the State of Texas in September 2017 to cover emergency costs in the aftermath of Harvey, less than $5 million has been expended. This is shocking considering your insistence on the necessity of the funds for immediate needs."

In the letter, the governor also claimed matching money for federal grants is already set aside but has not been requested. The governor’s office said Houston has not applied for that available money, despite many reminders.

The letter continued, "All of the above funding that is already available to you, coupled with the absence of requests for those funds, shows that you have yet to even identify what you want to spend money on. It is perplexing that you are seeking more funding when you have shown no ability to spend what you already have access to."

“It is becoming clear that the demands for more money before identifying how the money will be spent are nothing more than an attempt to distract from the fact that city leaders are hindering the ability of Houstonians to recover from Hurricane Harvey,” said Ciara Matthews, deputy communications director for Abbott. “Jurisdictions like Houston continue to ask for more money despite refusing to identify how that money is intended to be spent. They seem to be seeking a blank check with no identified purpose for the money and no accountability for how it will be spent."

Turner said Houston has already made a lot of progress, but has a long road ahead.

"The letter was not to say that the governor has not been a good partner with the city or the other local governments ... that we haven't worked well together in the past. But these are the things we will be looking at" in the future, Turner said. "We have rebounded back probably quicker than any city could have done so in the country. And we are still a long way."