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7 Years Later, Over $3 Billion in Hurricane Relief Money Remains Unspent

Staff Sgt. James L. Harper, Jr., USAF, via flickr/chucksimmins
Lawmakers met with officials from the Texas General Land Office yesterday to discuss delays in rebuilding homes for victims of 2008's Hurricane Ike in Galveston (pictured) and Hurricane Dolly in South Texas.

Over seven years after hurricanes Ike and Dolly devastated the Texas coast, $3.1 billion in federal disaster relief remains unspent. It's a number that recently became a point of focus at a state Senate Committee hearing on disaster recovery.

It came up while lawmakers questioned representatives from the Texas General Land Office yesterday. Ken Wisian works on coastal disaster recovery for the General Land Office. He testified that staffing constraints had a lot to do with the delay.

“For us, to flow the fund through the regional and local partners and then through to construction, is at about the point where everyone can stay on top of it and make sure everything’s done right,” Wisian said.

That was not enough to placate members of the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations.

“We've got to find a way to move this money along as quickly as possible, and I don’t care if it’s $1 billion a day,” said Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a Democrat from Houston. “We’ve got to just move it.”

Members of the office told the committee that, of the 60,200 housing units for which the money was allocated, 95 percent of the single-family homes were completed, but only about half of the multi-family homes have been built out. Republican Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels said the process was mired in “too much bureaucracy” between federal, county and local governments.

“I think we need to get a better handle on why we can’t have a quicker completion of the project,” she said. “[Residents] can’t be displaced for seven and a half years. By then, they’ve found something almost permanent.”  

The Land Office was unsure where people displaced by the storms may have resettled, saying that local housing authorities kept track of that data. 

Lawmakers assigned the land office some homework: Report back with more detailed information on what projects still needed completion and suggestions on how state and local policy could be changed to speed up the process.

"I would have very high confidence that the process would flow significantly faster," said Wisian. "But, yes, we owe you a more detailed analysis of that aspect of it.” 

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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