Fed rules: Disaster funds earmarked for housing recovery

Hidalgo County judge Richard Cortez and Senator John Cornyn tour the Raymondville Drainage Project on FM2812 and Seminary road on Monday, Oct.14, 2019 in Edinburg. Photo by Delcia Lopez/The Monitor

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has released a set of mandatory rules that will guide how state and local officials use more than $285 million in federal disaster relief funding.

Texas General Land Commissioner George P. Bush announced the release of the rules in a statement Wednesday. Part of a larger nationwide disaster relief funding appropriation, HUD has tasked the GLO with administering and disbursing the funds in Texas in response to the June 2018 and June 2019 floods, as well as other disasters that affected the Coastal Bend and the greater Houston region.

“Flooding continues to be the most destructive form of natural disaster threatening our state,” Bush said in the statement.

According to the rules, the monies must first be used to address housing recovery efforts before they can be allocated to other disaster recovery projects, such as infrastructure improvement or economic development.

“We must continue to work with our federal, state and local partners to prioritize long-term recovery efforts that increase the resiliency of homes, harden infrastructure and mitigate effects of future disasters,” Bush said.

A total of $72.9 million in Community Development Block Grants have been allocated for the 2018 flood, $58.3 million of which will go to Hidalgo County alone. Cameron and Jim Wells counties will split up to $14.5 million.

Hidalgo County Precinct 1 Commissioner David Fuentes praised the news last week, after Sen. John Cornyn announced that such a large portion of the relief monies would go solely to the county. “What’s great is that it’s definitely going to impact Hidalgo County,” Fuentes said, calling the disaster aid “substantial.”

The funding pot for 2019 disasters is significantly larger, as approximately 10 different counties will receive aid for damage caused by the June 2019 storms in the Rio Grande Valley and Tropical Storm Imelda, which struck the upper coast. Counties affected there include Chambers, Harris, Jefferson, Liberty, Montgomery, Orange and San Jacinto. In all, just over $212.7 million will be split among the 10 counties affected by the 2019 disasters.

Cameron County and a portion of eastern Hidalgo County that stretches from the Rio Grande at Rio Rico, north through Mercedes, Heidelberg, Mila Doce and Indian Hills, will be eligible to receive part of $170 million set aside for the 2019 allocation. However, they will have also share those recovery monies with several of the Houston-area counties.

The rest of Hidalgo County, as well as Willacy and San Jacinto counties will split the remainder of the 2019 funds — up to $42.5 million, according to the GLO.

“HUD specifically requires the disaster funds to primarily address unmet housing needs,” the statement reads. “Infrastructure and economic development are only eligible if there is no remaining unmet housing need, or if the remaining unmet housing need will be addressed by other sources of funds.”

Fuentes credited the funding allocation in large part to leaders from throughout the Valley coming together as one unified region when presenting needs to state and federal lawmakers. “Coming together as a region has really made us a lot stronger,” Fuentes said.