Advocates Urge Texas Land Commissioner to Reroute Hurricane Harvey Relief

Image: NOAA’s National Weather Service

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

More than three years after Hurricane Harvey, officials are still clashing over how to disperse aid. In the first $1 billion round of support, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush made some questionable calculations, leaving the hardest-hit communities in its most populous city without a penny in federal aid according to the Houston Chronicle. Democrats and Republicans alike are outraged by handling relief funds, getting antsy waiting for funds that may never come. Meanwhile, Houston and Harris County are bracing themselves for another disastrous storm season.

Why This Matters: Hurricanes are becoming more frequent, stronger, and more enduring as the climate warms. Experts say that the nation may see hurricanes move as far inland as Atlanta in the coming months, and this hurricane season is expected to be at least as damaging as 2020’s record-breaking season, if not worse. Low-income communities in flood-prone areas are still reeling from devastating floods that destroyed their homes and neighborhoods. Texas communities are still recovering from the deep freeze that left 14 million without power in February. Without swift and efficient funding, some communities hit by back-to-back storms don’t have a chance of recovering at all. But even as advocates urge the state government to protect vulnerable communities, Commissioner Bush continues to send money elsewhere.

The Fix

“The fix was in from the beginning,” said Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey. “As a conservative who wants government funds to be used for their stated purpose and meet congressional intent – this process failed.” Federal child tax credits favor those with more kids. Still, in Texas, Bush reversed that method, favoring families with only one child for relief benefits, sending money outside of Houston and Harris County, where most of the damage occurred. “It appears that Bush’s agency used metrics that actually penalized the Houston region for having the most people,” wrote The Houston Chronicle’s Editorial Board. Harris county sustained nearly half of the $125 billion in damages incurred by Harvey but received only 9% of the disbursement of funds.

In response, 22 Texas House members wrote to Bush, urging him to reevaluate his process and include Harris county in the first round of disbursement. Bush has tried to shift blame to cities and counties, saying, “constituents have to start asking the City of Houston and Harris County who exactly are filling out these applications, and are they being effective in representing their constituents.” But critics say this isn’t an issue of pristine applications; it’s an issue of survival.

Aftershock

After a record-breaking hurricane season and a devastating pandemic, communities across America are fatigued. Many communities gearing up for hurricane season are low-income or have high populations of BIPOC residents, who were hit hardest by both last year’s flooding and COVID-19. Now, advocates urge federal, state, and local governments to evaluate risk and take swift action to permanently mitigate flooding and damage before it happens or risk losing homes, communities, and economic value. “There is a finite amount of financial capital in this community, there is a finite amount of human ability in this community … the words unprecedented, historic, unthinkable, unfathomable, they just don’t seem to properly articulate what we are going through anymore,” said Lake Charles Louisiana Mayor Nic Hunter this month after a devastating flash flood. “We absolutely deserve and need the proper and commensurate response to what we have gone through. We have not received it yet.” Reimbursements from FEMA have been promised but delayed, leaving many in limbo as hurricane season approaches.

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