Congressman Pete Olson

Representing the 22nd District of Texas

Olson Troubled By Lack of Change in Funding Formula for Ike Communities

September 18, 2009
Press Release

Rep. Pete Olson today expressed concern with the Texas Department of Rural Affairs (TDRA) failure to make the systematic changes in the formula for emergency funding allocation needed to ensure that Hurricane Ike affected communities receive the needed funding for rebuilding and recovery.

“The revised plan does appropriately shift needed funds back to local governments where it belongs.  For that they should be applauded.  However, my hope was that TDRA understood the flaws in their ‘weather report model’ and would revise their process to reflect the enormity of the damages in the Ike affected communities,” Rep. Olson said.  “Upon closer scrutiny, the ‘new’ formula was only minimally altered.  Among its flaws, the weather report model being used by TDRA treats a category 4 storm surge equal to a category 2 wind force.  This means a strong wind causing minimal damage in a sparsely populated area is treated the same as the 20 foot storm surge that decimated the Bolivar Peninsula.”

Existing Formula concerns:

a. The weather model attempts to generate “estimated damages” for each county and region without taking into account actual housing and infrastructure damages incurred.
b. The Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC) has 75% of the most damaged homes but will only receive 59% of the funds.

“This formula is unacceptable and I have written to the TDRA requesting a fundamental reform of this process.  I am deeply disappointed by their lack of action on this matter and will continue to fight for a system that will better meet the needs of the communities still recovering from a devastating storm and ANY Texas communities who may face a similar problem in the future,” Olson concluded.

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*Below is the text of the letter sent to TDRA requesting changes to the existing model.

September 11, 2009

Mr. Charlie Stone, Executive Director
Texas Department of Rural Affairs
P.O. Box 12877
Austin, TX 78711
RE: Hurricane Ike Round Two Funding Allocation

Dear Mr. Stone:

Roughly one year ago Hurricane Ike left a devastating impact on the coastal areas of the upper Texas coast.  I greatly applaud your agency’s efforts in the first round of disaster funding to target those communities most impacted by the storm. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that the recovery process is only just beginning.  Many people have been working non-stop since landfall to help local residents get back to some semblance of a normal life and the funding provided through your agency from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is critical.

With this in mind, I am having a hard time understanding why there is a need to change the funding allocation formula that was developed for the first round of funding.  As I understand it, the proposed change will redirect much needed funding from the coastal areas, specifically the Houston-Galveston area where the storm made landfall, and disperse it over a broad inland area well into east Texas. This new formula is based on a “weather report model” that discounts actual damage in favor of estimated regional weather impacts.  Additionally, in this funding proposal, Category 2 force winds are ranked as having equal impacts with a Category 4 storm surge.

I understand that representatives from TDRA are conducting public hearings in various areas attempting to explain this proposed new formula and seek public input. They were met with very stiff opposition at the Galveston meeting.  Over 30 citizens and officials spoke in opposition to the proposed plan. During that meeting it was explained by TDRA staff that some inland communities received very little funding and it simply is not sufficient to fund a project.  While I sympathize with that scenario, it must be remembered that the goal of this program is not to disburse funds, but to provide relief to those most impacted. Those communities received smaller allocations because they received less impact from Ike and experienced less damage. 

During the Galveston meeting, TDRA staff also stated that their agency intended to allocate over $150 million to their administration and project delivery budget. It is possible this could be construed as supplementing their regular program budget with specific disaster related funding originally intended for those areas most impacted by Ike. This proposal would also create a competing housing assistance program that was already approved under the first round of funding.

Respectfully, this is not a wise idea.  Having two competing Housing Assistance Programs, administered under different guidelines, by different organizations, in the same local areas, would cause tremendous confusion and increase overall delivery costs simply due to unneeded redundancy.

There are other issues with this flawed proposal, and the easiest way to correct these problems is to continue using the state and locally approved allocation format established in the first round of funding.

Thank you for your service to our great state.  It is my hope that we can work together as our citizens continue to recover from this terrible storm.  Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or I can be of any help.

Sincerely,
Pete Olson
Member of Congress