Is GLO Commissioner George P. Bush Determined to Stiff the City of Houston over Harvey Funds?

George P. Bush

The feud between Houston-area government officials and the Texas General Land Office continued this week following months of acrimony. 

On Wednesday, Mayor Sylvester Turner and Stephen Costello, the city’s chief recovery officer, said in a letter to the GLO, “It is unconscionable that the State would expect that this amount in any way represents an amount that is sufficient to address the extensive mitigation needs in Houston and elsewhere in Harris County.”

In written testimony to the U.S. House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation in July, Mayor Turner scolded The GLO for a “demonstrably flawed process” that awarded no flood mitigation funds to the city most affected by Hurricane Harvey.

The testimony continues to make the case: “When members of the U.S. House and Senate approved an aid package in February of 2018 for the region battered by Hurricane Harvey, do you believe they intended for those dollars to be funneled to the cities and counties least affected?”

“Aransas and Nueces County, coastal counties where Harvey made landfall, received nothing.”

Jefferson County, which endured the highest total rainfall? Again, nothing.” 

“The City of Houston and Harris County, which suffered 50 percent of the damage from Hurricane Harvey? The GLO process awarded nothing.”

“This clown car must be stopped.”

The GLO attempted to repair some of the fallout by retroactively awarding $750 million to Harris County, but still nothing for Houston. Given that Congress – in a bi-partisan vote and signed by President Trump – appropriated $4.3 billion in flood mitigation dollars for Texas. The Houston-Harris County region endured half the damage in the State of Texas. The numbers just don’t add up. 

Bush has repeatedly made false statements regarding Harvey mitigation funds. He has repeatedly claimed that federal rules tied his hands. A Houston Chronicle analysis showed this is false: “Not only does the federal government grant states significant discretion to decide how to spend their funds, but the criteria Bush’s General Land Office developed discriminated against populous areas.”

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) responded by stating clearly, “the formula for allocation was created by the State of Texas. They have full responsibility and jurisdiction over who gets the money that was allocated to the state for flood mitigation.”

Harris County Administrator Dave Berry told the Houston Chronicle that county leaders support Houston’s request for a $1 billion allocation.

“The majority of the amount the State of Texas (federal) allocation — by far — was due to Hurricane Harvey and the documented damage suffered in Harris County and the city of Houston,” Berry wrote. “Congress clearly intended for this money to go to communities most impacted and distressed by Harvey.”

The situation is extremely consequential for Houston residents. The city is trying to improve drainage to mitigate urban flooding so houses don’t flood before stormwater can reach the bayous. The federal government appropriated these funds for precisely this purpose – and to protect investments already made in recovery costs. Yet, the GLO appears determined to avoid allocating the Houston-Harris County region an appropriate share of funds that could help Houstonians stay dry in the next flood.

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Editorial Cartoonist Nick Anderson has joined the Reform Austin newsroom, where he will employ the artistic skill and political insights that earned a Pulitzer Prize to drive coverage of Texas government. As managing editor, Anderson is responsible for guiding Reform Austin’s efforts to give readers the unfiltered facts they need to hold Texas leaders accountable. Anderson’s original cartoons will be a regular feature on RA News. “Reform Austin readers understand the consequences of electing politicians who use ideological agendas to divide us, when they should be doing the hard work necessary to make our state government work for everyone,” Anderson said. “As a veteran journalist, I’m excited about Reform Austin’s potential to re-focus conversations on the issues that matter to common-sense Texans – like protecting our neighborhoods from increasingly common disasters, healthcare, just to name a few.” Anderson worked for the Houston Chronicle, the largest newspaper in Texas, from 2006 until 2017. In addition to the Pulitzer, Anderson earned the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Award. He’s also a two-time winner of Columbia College’s Fischetti Award, and the National Press Foundation’s Berryman Award. Anderson’s cartoons have been published in Newsweek, the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune and other papers. In 2005, Anderson won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning while working for the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky. The judges complimented his “unusual graphic style that produced extraordinarily thoughtful and powerful messages.”

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