WASHINGTON — After urging the Trump administration for over a year to release billions in long-awaited disaster relief funding to Texas and other disaster-affected states to no avail, Texans in Congress are now taking more aggressive measures.
This week, U.S. Reps. Randy Weber, R-Friendswood, and Lizzie Fletcher, D-Houston, introduced the Bipartisan Disaster Recovery Funding Act, which would direct federal agencies to release $16 billion in disaster funds to different states and territories — including more than $4 billion to Texas— within 60 days. The bill drew 13 other co-sponsors from Texas, mostly from the Houston area, as well as supporters from other communities waiting on the funding, including Louisiana, South Carolina, Florida and Puerto Rico.
The bill comes as the official start to hurricane season looms on June 1 and after areas of Houston still recovering from Hurricane Harvey two years ago recently experienced flooding from strong storms.
Texas and other communities have been waiting for more than a year for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Office of Management and Budget to set guidelines for use of grant funds for projects meant to bolster resiliency in communities impacted by recent disasters. Earlier this year, state leaders including Gov. Greg Abbott and Land Commissioner George P. Bush publicly urged the federal government to establish the rules quickly.
In early 2018, Congress approved $16 billion in disaster funding for various areas impacted by disasters. Texas and Puerto Rico were slated to receive the most funds. More than a year later, the recipients are still waiting on HUD to publish rules governing how those grant funds may be used.
A major reason for the delay, according to multiple media reports, appears to be the Trump administration’s resistance to providing more aid to Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from hurricanes in 2017.
“After Harvey hit, I fought alongside the Texas delegation to secure additional funds for Harvey survivors,” U.S. Rep. Mike McCaul, an Austin Republican and co-signer on the bill, said in a statement Thursday. “Unfortunately, the agencies tasked with distributing these funds did not respond with the same urgency.”
Although HUD Secretary Ben Carson testified before Congress last year that his department would release the rules by May 1, it still has not. Once HUD has followed through, there could still be months of bureaucratic hurdles before local governments can put the funding to use.
“Hurricane season starts in two weeks,” Fletcher, Weber and more than a dozen other members of Congress said in a joint press release. “Our communities continue to wait for the funds needed to recover and rebuild from past storms, funds that should have gone toward rebuilding and preparing for the next storms in Texas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Puerto Rico.”
Fletcher and Weber picked up the bill in the House after a similar measure was introduced in the U.S. Senate on May 9 by U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, and Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat.
The Disaster Recovery Funding Act comes after the House passed a bill earlier this month from Fletcher and U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, that would require HUD to publish its long-delayed rules within 14 days of enactment.
Texas has already received billions of dollars for Harvey recovery, but each bucket of money is designated for a specific purpose. The $4.3 billion that Congress approved for Texas last February is part of a HUD grant program designed “to help cities, counties, and States recover from Presidentially declared disasters, especially in low-income areas.”