Governor orders $1.3B Hurricane recovery plan changed but fails to fix the problem

Not surprisingly the ill-conceived “weather report plan” proposed by ORCA to divide up the federal disaster recovery dollars in Texas attracted such a firestorm of opposition that Governor Perry ordered it changed today. The weather report plan allocated funds based on wind and rain rather than damages incurred and allowed ORCA staff to shift funds away from hard hit urban communities like Galveston and Houston to inland rural counties where the storm did little or no damage.

The reason ORCA tried to sell the weather report plan was to give money to rural counties that ORCA exists to serve on a day to day basis. These far-flung rural counties are the political constituency ORCA is beholden to. ORCA depends on these rural county judges to save the troubled rural agency each legislative session when moves are made to abolish or consolidate ORCA’s functions in another state agency like the Agriculture Department. In pushing the weather report plan, ORCA Ignored its responsibility as the lead agency to serve the disaster needs of all Texas. The urban government officials who actually experienced hurricane damage cried foul and the Governor reined ORCA in– sort of.

I say sort of because a quick review of the actual impact of the changes in the plan by the ever vigilant Joe Higgs of Gulf Coast Interfaith shows the plan still misallocates money. Joe likes to look at the numbers by starting with the number of houses FEMA says suffered more than $8,000 in damages and dividing them by the amount of funding the Governor is making available to the region. A fair allocation plan would provide roughly equal levels of funding between regions. But here is how Governor Perry’s new plan divides the money…

Region                                   Average allocation per damaged home
Pool of 7 regions far removed 
from major hurricane area                         $596,516
Deep East Texas                                   $258,675
Lower Rio Grande Valley                           $131,247
Southeast Texas                                    $33,372
Houston/Galveston                                  $31,091

.

It is apparent that the division of funds is radically skewed to areas where there was little hurricane damage.

What’s more this fight over the regional allocation of money was completely unnecessary if the program would have been administered in a manner pursued by most other states. This would have involved the rational assessment of needs and a centrally administered program that would have spent most of the money to help citizens rebuild. In Texas the disaster recovery program has been turned into a huge government pork-barrel program in which city, county and regional government (acting through COGs) are competing to land their share of the spoils to use on their favorite local government activity (economic development, local infrastructure, etc).

While the Governor scrambles to adjust funding levels to please the local politicians the people who lost their homes in the hurricanes are being ignored.

Based on our analysis of the available storm damage data, the State of Texas must reserve at a minimum 65 percent of the funds to help Texas homeowners and property owners rebuild and repair their homes. To fail to do so will mean many of the Texas families living in FEMA mobile homes or temporarily living in apartments will not get any of the federal funds that the State of Texas received to help them rebuild.

The Governor’s plan suggests to the local politicians that they ought to set aside a mere 50 percent of the funds for housing but allows them to spend it all on themselves and spend nothing on the victims of the hurricanes if that is what the local politicians choose.

Unlike every other state governor in the wake of every other natural disaster in recent history, Governor Perry is ducking his responsibility to ensure the federal disaster recovery funds are spent responsibly. Governor Perry appears to prefer to write a blank check for $1.3 billion to local politicians and bureaucrats to spend the federal disaster recovery money however they want. As a result, many Texans will not get the help they must have to rebuild their homes.