Houston Democrats In Congress Lash Out At GLO Over $750 Million Harvey Funds Offer

Congressman Al Green warned that unless Houston and Harris County received a “fair share,” the U.S. Houston and Urban Development Department would not provide Texas any funds at all.

From left to right: Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia, Congressman Al Green, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, and Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher

Houston's Democratic members of Congress on Thursday warned that Texas could lose out on Harvey mitigation funds unless Houston and Harris County get a larger share of the money.

The delegation spoke on the steps of Houston's City Hall a day after the General Land Office, under pressure, approved funding of $750 million for the region.

But U.S. Rep. Al Green, the leader of Texas' Democratic delegation, said the gesture still isn’t enough.

“In no universe should the people of Houston and Harris County be denied a fair amount of funding for the harm suffered during the catastrophic flooding that occurred not only during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, but also (during) other floods in 2015 and 2016 as well,” Greens said.

Green blasted Land Commissioner George P. Bush for blaming the Biden administration for the snub, in which Bush provided zero funds to Houston and Harris County, a point that was later repeated by the other members of the delegation.

"The GLO initially presented an action plan that was submitted and approved under the Trump administration, not the Biden administration," Green said. "Whether with intent or by accident, Commissioner Bush is politicizing the needs of our constituents. Harvey was not a Democratic disaster. It was not a Republican flood. Blaming the Biden administration is not a good strategy."

Harris County dealt with the brunt of damage from Hurricane Harvey’s landfall in 2017, and requested $1.3 billion in funding from the U.S. Department of Housing of Urban Development, which is then distributed through the state GLO. The state agency offered nothing to either the county or the city, though other parts of Harris County — including Baytown and Pasadena — did receive money directly.

Mayor Sylvester Turner blasted the decision earlier this week, calling it “unfathomable,” and said both the city and the county should get $1 billion each to use.

Green warned of what would happen unless the city and county received what all the members described as "a fair share."

"The GLO must amend their state action plan and include a fair share of dollars for Houston and Harris County since each sustained major damage from Harvey,” he said. “If the plan is not amended and subsequently approved by HUD, no one gets any money.”

Responding to a question from reporters, Green said that it wasn't a threat, simply a recognition of the process by which HUD must approve the Harvey funds.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said the GLO was not within its rights to make the decision to withold distribution of funds.

“They were unauthorized to leave Houston and Harris County out because the present Housing and Urban Development (Department) has not received the State of Texas' amended plan," she said.

Jackson Lee said the submission of an amended plan requires a comment period, which could lead to the region receiving more than $750 million.

Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher stressed that the region was still under threat of flooding — a point that seemed fresh after the past week of heavy rains.

"For some people (Harvey) was the second time their home had flooded in as many years, and for some people it was the third time that their homes had flooded, after (the) Tax Day and Memorial Day floods in 2015 and 2016," Fletcher said. "From Jersey Village to the Memorial Villages to Meyerland, my constituents saw waters rise in their streets and then in their homes. And many of them still worry every time that it rains that it's going to happen again."

Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia also argued that Bush was being disingenuous in trying to blame the Biden administration, saying that the process had been in place since 2017 — before Biden was in office, but when Bush was.

"He's been there. He has had plenty of time to figure this out,” Garcia said. “We are talking about the lives of families, and we don't need him putting them at risk. We're talking about long-overdue aid. And when Commissioner Bush tries to frame this situation as if Houston and Harris County are asking for special treatment, it's just plain hogwash."

Houston and Harris County sustained roughly half the damage Harvey inflicted on Texas, and the representatives either implied or said outright that the region should, as a consequence, receive half the aid.

They cited a figure of $2.5 billion, which was raised earlier this week by members of Harris County Commissioners Court — well more than what’s being offered.

"The GLO's actions are unacceptable," Garcia said.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew Schneider is the senior reporter for politics and government at Houston Public Media, NPR's affiliate station in Houston, Texas. In this capacity, he heads the station's coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments...

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