Hurricane Harvey

New Texas plan for federal Hurricane Harvey aid yields same old result: Funds diverted away from Gulf Coast

Despite an admonition from federal authorities, Land Commissioner George P. Bush’s plan still steers aid disproportionately to whiter, inland counties at less risk of natural disasters.

Piles of flood damage from Hurricane Harvey lay outside of homes in Port Arthur in Jefferson County on Sept. 20, 2017. The coastal county, which recorded the highest rainfall totals from Harvey and shattered U.S rainfall records, received zero dollars of disaster aid so far from the Texas General Land Office.

MORE | Nearly 5 years after Hurricane Harvey, thousands of Houston homeowners are still waiting for assistance – and might not get it

"Why does some community 200 miles from the coast get a new water system when you've got neighborhoods that have flooded four or five times in the last decade in a coastal community?" Henneberger said. "It's a very cynical — and we think illegal — use of the funds."
George P. Bush greets U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at a Hurricane Harvey recovery update at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Texas regional office for on Nov. 15, 2017.

An influx of aid

Red Stewart salvages useful items from a Hurricane Harvey flood pile at a trailer park on the north side of Houston on Sept. 6, 2017. Houston received zero dollars in Harvey aid and Harris County received just 9% of the $1 billion. A high share of the money has been channeled into lower-risk inland counties by the Texas General Land Office.
"It's so illogical to do what is being done that I can see where some people might conclude it's all a part of an effort to curry favor with a certain group of voters," Green said.
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush discusses Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts alongside HUD Deputy Secretary Pamela Hughes Patenaude at the Texas Capitol on Nov. 17, 2017.
Bush sought safer political ground. After claiming, falsely, that the Biden administration was to blame for the outcome, he decided to give $750 million of the remaining funds directly to Harris County.

A second chance

Including the awards from the first funding competition, two councils composed of state-picked inland counties that rank no higher than 66th on the disaster index will end up with $752 per resident under the new plan.
And then, two weeks later, HUD approved the Bush team's new spending plan.
Nueces County resident Peggy Bull stands outside her home which has flooded three times since 1981. Although Nueces County ranks 10th in the disaster index of Texas counties and is close to where Hurricane Harvey made landfall, it has received no aid money from the Texas General Land Office.

Waiting for the next storm

First: For the first time since moving here 30 years ago, Nueces County resident Dan Zamora’s home flooded twice last year. Last: Zamora shows a picture of last year’s flood at his house. Residents are concerned about increased flooding due to residential developments replacing the grassy fields that previously retained stormwater.
"We were seriously considering selling, but after we got the whole house remodeled my wife and I decided to hold off," Zamora said. "If it happens again, we're out of here."
Coryell County Judge Roger Miller stands near a creek with low water crossing in Gatesville on May 12, 2022. The county plans to use $3.4 million from the Harvey aid to build bridges in areas with low water passes prone to flooding.

Unmet rural needs

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Subscribe to Today in Houston

Fill out the form below to subscribe our new daily editorial newsletter from the HPM Newsroom.

* required