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Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush said he is requesting $750 million in federal funds to be sent directly to Harris County after the county and Houston were awarded $0 out of the $1 billion pot in the latest round of Hurricane Harvey relief funds.
This announcement comes after an outcry from Houston and Harris County leaders who requested $1.3 billion from the land office, which was provided relief funds by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
On Tuesday, the Harris County and Houston officials court sent a letter to Bush expressing their “profound disappointment” at being left off the land office’s recent list of recipients for relief money. They argued Harris County bore the brunt of the damages and loss of life from Harvey, and that it should receive funding as a result.
“I have heard the overwhelming concerns of Harris County regarding the mitigation funding competition,” Bush said in a statement Wednesday.
Bush blamed Houston and Harris County being left out on President Joe Biden’s administration. But Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has said the metrics for determining who gets funding was made under the Trump Administration — and she sent a letter to the Biden Administration asking for an audit and intervention of those metrics.
A direct allocation — as requested by Bush — would mean that Harris County would have fewer restrictions on how it could spend the money in regard to Harvey relief and would forgo the proposal process. In this first round of funding, communities submitted detailed proposals to the land office for specific projects that were graded numerically against a matrix on a number of factors. None of Harris County or Houston’s proposals were scored high enough to receive money.
Local officials argued the matrix gave favor to both more sparsely populated areas and areas with higher property values, which worked against Houston and Harris County.
Last week, spokespeople for HUD and GLO shifted the blame to one another for reasons that Harris County and Houston were not awarded funds.
Mike Burns, deputy assistant secretary for public affairs at HUD, said last week although the department approves the state's distribution plan, Texas was responsible for creating the allocation formula and has "full responsibility and jurisdiction over who gets the money that was allocated to the state for flood mitigation."
"We believe all areas of the state, including Houston and Harris County, should receive the resources they need to recover from Hurricane Harvey," Burns said, adding that HUD would have to give final approval for the allocations announced by GLO.
But Brittany Eck, a spokesperson for the Texas General Land Office, said the office’s hands were tied, because it had to score on a matrix under guidelines from HUD. The office couldn’t show favoritism to any community, she said. Additionally, the office supported Harris County’s initial request to HUD to receive direct funding — which HUD denied.
Bush’s statement went further to say GLO waited on HUD to publish rules for two years after Harvey hit and that the GLO included scoring criteria required by HUD.
“Although Hurricane Harvey made landfall in August 2017 and Congress appropriated these mitigation funds several months thereafter, the GLO’s hands were tied waiting for HUD to publish the rules regulating the use of these funds until they were published in a Federal Register notice, which did not happen until August 30, 2019,” Bush’s statement read.
The land office will submit an amendment asking HUD for the funding, which the federal agency will have to approve before it can go into effect. A second round of $1.1 billion in Harvey relief money will be awarded to Texas communities in the future.