Last weekend I couldn’t help but think of an old quote from Molly Ivins, the late newspaper columnist, author and political commentator: “All anyone needs to enjoy the state legislature is a strong stomach and a complete insensitivity to the needs of the people. As long as you don’t think about what that peculiar body should be doing and what it actually is doing to the quality of life in Texas, then it’s all marvelous fun.”
The same could be said of Texas politics, generally.
Late Friday, just after I left work for the day, I received an email from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development press office, notifying me that it had technically nixed more than $1.95 billion in federal aid tabbed for communities recovering from 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, because state officials hadn’t submitted the required paperwork.
“Ensuring resources for people and communities to mitigate risk from future disasters is our priority, and we are hopeful that Texas will take the steps needed to begin much-needed, forward-looking mitigation projects for the state,” the news release said.
Can anyone think of a more Texas-sounding political disaster? The headlines almost write themselves - $1.95 billion in Harvey aid left on table because someone forgot to meet deadline.
It didn’t take long at all before administrators with the Texas General Land Office, which has been overseeing much of the state’s Harvey recovery, to respond, laying the blame on the federal government.
“The partisan political game being played by the Biden Administration is putting Texans at risk,” said Brittany Eck, a spokesperson for the agency, in a statement to the Houston Chronicle. “HUD must approve this funding now, before the next storm hits.”
Eck asserted the state office had submitted the required paperwork, contrary to the federal government’s claims.
For those of us watching this debacle ensue from the outside, it will be some time before we can definitively say who’s right and who’s wrong. Maybe they’re both right, and the state’s paperwork got lost in the mail?
The one thing that’s clear at this point is that, months after communities across the state, including several in Fort Bend County, received the news they’d be receiving community-changing federal aid dollars, political games are now afoot that run the risk of scuttling the whole thing.
Those of us who lived through Hurricane Harvey won’t soon forget the feelings of terror and horror during those few days in late August 2017 when the rains came down. The residual trauma of the experience led to a sort of unifying call amongst political leaders of both parties across the region in the months after the storm.
If there still exists any sort of bipartisan cooperation in the year 2022, one would think it might be in the area of flooding mitigation.
Simply put, Harvey caught us unawares and taught us lessons about what severe weather in the Gulf Coast might look like in years to come. It was incumbent on us, each of us, to act with urgency to prevent similar catastrophes in the future.
Maybe with the passage of time our elected leaders in Austin and Washington D.C. have forgotten the urgency of those first months after the storm, or perhaps they never quite understood how it felt.
Whatever the case, it’s now up to us to remind them.
The primaries are coming up this March, and with them, we can possibly get Land Commissioner George P. Bush’s and the federal government’s attention. If we don’t step in, maybe with time they really will forget all about the billions in aid meant to help the region recover from flooding disaster.
We need that money. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my time as a reporter, it’s that any and all flood mitigation-related projects are expensive, and money is hard to come by.
If you take anything from this column, let it be this – please reach out to your elected officials, those on both sides of the political spectrum, and let them know you haven’t forgotten about Harvey.
Perhaps with a little bipartisan cooperation, those of us in Fort Bend County and across the Houston region really can move mountains.