It Has Not Been Swift But Federal Funds Will Soon Flow Into Texas and Florida
Seven months after hurricanes Harvey and Irma wreaked catastrophic damages in parts of Texas and Florida, leaving $175 billion in damages in their wake, help is on the way. Much-needed federal disaster relief dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) should reach public officials in Gulf Coast counties by the end of this month.
The funding from HUD will be allocated through Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs). Texas is in line to receive $5.5 billion which will be distributed among 16 coastal and inland counties. In Florida, 10 counties will benefit from $615.9 million in CDBG allocations.
CDBG disaster funds address significant unmet needs that are essential for long-term recovery in a disaster-stricken community. The funds are allocated to state and local governments. When these funds arrive in Texas, they will be administered by the Texas General Land Office (GLO).
Texas is a step ahead of Florida and will receive funds first. The GLO created its action plan for distribution of the disaster funds in January. That plan is expected to be approved soon by HUD, and then the funds will be sent to Texas.
State officials held a dozen meetings with state and federal legislators and county and city officials in the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey. In total, state leaders consulted and conducted outreach in nearly 50 counties. Officials and residents of the impacted cities and counties were able to explain and prioritize their immediate needs.
Florida is currently studying unmet community needs and has not yet updated its disaster plan. Receipt of CDBG disaster funding to deal with damages from Hurricane Irma will be contingent on its approval.
Although more than a dozen Texas counties - Harris, Jefferson, Orange, Galveston, Fort Bend, Brazoria, Montgomery, Liberty, Hardin, Chambers, Aransas, Wharton, San Patricio, San Jacinto, Nueces and Victoria - are expecting CDBG disaster funding, if the Texas action plan is approved, Harris County will get the largest share of the funds. The GLO plan calls for 80 percent of the HUD funding to be allocated to Harris County, which HUD has identified as the "most impacted and distressed" area in the state.
More than 1 million homes in Harris County suffered from the brunt of record rainfall - up to nearly 60 inches during the hurricane. Texas has already spent more than $1 billion on storm recovery and response but the block grants will help facilitate long-term recovery in areas where there are still needs.
Both Texas and Florida already have received federal assistance as a result of a September bill that infused $15.25 billion into the states to deal with immediate emergencies after the storms hit last year. In October, numerous members of the Texas congressional delegation and Gov. Greg Abbott wrote to influential members of Congress seeking additional aid. Their letter indicated that the state would need an additional $18.7 billion in new funding to address recovery efforts.
The new federal budget approved earlier this year dedicated $23.5 billion to FEMA for its fund that supports disaster recovery and repair programs. Another $28 billion was funneled into block grants for rebuilding housing and infrastructure. Four existing projects totaling about $1 billion that are all partnerships between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Harris County Flood Control District will also get funding from a $10.4 billion congressional appropriation to the Corps.
One month after Harvey hit Texas, the state reported $61 billion in critical infrastructure projects for which federal funding assistance was sought. The projects were related to restoration and mitigation for roads and bridges, schools, government buildings and public facilities. Additional projects were listed that would help protect coastal infrastructure, homes, businesses, critical facilities and national assets such as petrochemical complexes.
Additional disaster recovery dollars will soon start to flow into Texas from Washington, D.C. And Florida will likely not be far behind. Recovery projects will be announced soon and there will be an abundance of opportunities for collaborative efforts between public-sector officials and private-sector contractors.