Key pool of federal Harvey housing funds still months away from getting to Texas
It will be at least another three months of waiting before Texas sees more than $4 billion in Hurricane Harvey aid money that has been tangled in red tape for more than a year.
U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson told reporters on Monday that his agency is still working on the rules that will dictate how the disaster mitigation money can be used in Texas to help homes and neighborhood brace for future storms. He said those rules are scheduled to be done by May. Then Texas would start working on a plan for how to comply with those rules, which would require yet more HUD approvals.
Carson said on Monday at a press conference in Washington, D.C., with Gov. Greg Abbott that he knows funding can never come fast enough after a disaster, but assured reporters that his agency is responding as quickly as it can.
“We feel the urgency to get this done and we will,” he said.
HUD has been working on the rules since February 2018 when Congress first appropriated $4.3 billion for Texas to mitigate against future storms. That long wait has frustrated elected officials in Texas. Members of the Congressional Delegation from Texas have written letters pushing Carson and his agency to pick up the pace, while Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush wrote President Donald Trump in January asking him to step in to help cut the red tape. Bush’s agency is the lead organization in distributing housing relief in Texas following Harvey.
On Monday in Austin, Bush expressed his frustration again with members of the Texas Senate.
“Their money is guided by their conditions and their rules, which has hamstrung the process,” Bush said of HUD during a Texas Senate Intergovernmental Relations Committee meeting.
There are other pools of HUD money already flowing in Texas aimed at repairing homes damaged by Harvey. For instance, more than $5 billion has now been sent to Texas, including more than $1.1 billion for Harris County and $1.2 billion for Houston. Another $2.7 billion went to the other 48 counties hit by Harvey. On Monday, Carson and Abbott used their press conference to mostly celebrate an additional $652 million that has been approved for Texas, which will bump up the spending in Houston and Harris County by another $179 million for fixing damaged homes.
That is in addition to $1.2 billion in housing aid the Federal Emergency Management Agency has distributed to more than 170,000 Harvey victims since the storm hit in August 2017.
The $4.3 billion that has been stalled is for a completely different and new program. That funding is for improvements to low and moderate income homes and neighborhoods to make sure they are not perpetually damaged in future storms. HUD officials have stressed that spending is for a completely new kind of program that requires new rules and regulations that will dictate how it will run.
While Texas waits for that funding, the state has been granted another disaster declaration for storms that ravaged central Texas last year. President Trump announced Monday he was granting the disaster declaration for 33 counties hit by severe storms and flooding from Sept. 10 to Nov. 2 in 2018.