Officials from two state agencies that help with disaster assistance told lawmakers Thursday there is little state money available for Hurricane Harvey recovery.
The Department of Housing and Community Affairs has about $15 million available for Harvey recovery, executive director Tim Irvine told the House Urban Affairs Committee. The agency can spend $3.5 million on helping displaced Texans with “essentials of life,” including covering energy bills, and $11.5 million in U.S. Housing and Urban Development funds for home rental assistance for about 1,000 families.
Officials from the General Land Office said the agency doesn’t have money dedicated to Harvey recovery. They explained to lawmakers that their recovery dollars are allocated after disasters. The agency currently has money available for recovery from Hurricanes Ike and Dolly in 2008, past wildfires and flooding.
General Land Office officials are looking for ways to redirect funding to Harvey relief, but the agency is limited in how it can respond, said Anne Idsal, chief clerk and deputy land commissioner. It’s an “unfortunate” and “frustrating” situation to be in, she told lawmakers.
The committee met to discuss the short-term and long-term housing needs of people displaced because of Harvey.
Harvey struck the Texas coast near Port Aransas as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 25, with sustained winds of 132 mph. The brutal storm devastated numerous coastal and rural communities, and left large portions of Houston and Beaumont under several feet of water. At least 70 people died, according to the AP.
As floodwaters recede, Texans are returning to their homes to find them uninhabitable. Hundreds of thousands of Texans have asked the federal government for disaster assistance. Gov. Greg Abbott said over the weekend that recovery will cost between $150 billion and $180 billion, topping the $120 billion Congress spent for Hurricane Katrina aid.
In Houston alone, floodwaters reportedly have destroyed 30,000-40,000 homes. Urban Affairs Committee Chairwoman Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, described the Department of Housing and Community Affairs’ available resources as minimal. Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, called it “woefully insufficient.”
“In light of where we’re at, the conversation betrays the scope of the issue,” Bernal said.
Texas is mostly depending on Congress for help, a fact that frustrated Rep. Jarvis Johnson, D-Houston.
“The longer we’re waiting for Congress to get their act together … the more the citizens here in the great state of Texas are suffering,” he said.
Lawmakers praised Abbott and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner for how they’re managing Harvey recovery efforts. Alvarado also thanked Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, for going to Houston with constituents to help with recovery.
“You were safe and dry and didn’t have to make the trouble to come to Houston,” Alvarado said to Leach, vice chairman of the committee. “The gesture is much appreciated, and I will forever be grateful to you.”