The people of coastal regions of Texas have suffered extensively from a series of extraordinary storms that have ravaged 49 counties since 2016. Hurricane Harvey alone caused an estimated $125 billion in damage, according to the Texas Tribune. People died and others had to evacuate their homes in these storms. Floods ran through homes. Many Texas families lived as refugees in shelters. Businesses were destroyed and many experienced the most terrifying nights and days of their whole lives.
A historic $4.3 billion in recovery funds are going to be distributed by the Texas General Land Office (GLO) to help the 8,700,259 people who live in the 49 counties impacted by these storms. The GLO has released a report proposing how to allocate out these funds and a public comment period on that proposal is open now through January 6, 2020.
Officials in the City of Houston and Harris County have raised concerns about the methodology for divvying up funds proposed by GLO, according to the Houston Chronicle. In a bizarre proposal, the GLO suggests limiting each jurisdiction – regardless of population size or damage – to up to three $100 million grants, given in sequential order. Local officials believe that the funds will likely be completely allocated before any government could make their way through a first $100 million in recovery.
This methodology will likely severely limit the amount of funds spent for the people of Harris County, significantly different than the estimated $2 billion that local officials expected.
The problem with divvying up recovery funding by government in this way is that more people live in Harris County than all other 48 counties combined – 350,779 more people, according to the US Census Bureau’s 2017 ACS 5-year estimates. Recovery must be focused on the people of Texas, not the governments. An equitable – and efficient – allocation of these funds using the very simplistic model of equal recovery funds per person would mean $2,235,222,017 for the people of Harris County and $2,061,966,983 for the people of the 48 other counties.
Of course, we should account for levels of damage and needs, but the ultimate division of recovery funds should not be extraordinarily far from these amounts. But many feel the result of this system of allocation will result in allocations radically different than these amounts.
When we divide the census data up by race and ethnicity, an even more disturbing aspect of this problem emerges. On the one hand, a strong majority of the residents of these 49 counties – 61% – are people of color. On the other hand, all 48 counties other than Harris are home to a slim majority of non-hispanic white residents, while Harris County is home to 71% people of color.
Short-changing Harris County in this situation means short-changing people of color. On its surface, any result that disproportionately distributes funds to the other 48 counties more than to Harris County seems a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, putting the entirety of the Federal recovery funds at risk.
Image Credit: Texas National Guard, posted on flicker with a Creative Commons license.