Local officials say it is too early to decide if everything will be “100 percent taken care of” in terms of funding much needed relief, now more than one year after Hurricane Dolly.
Officials say that funds set aside by the federal government for hurricane relief in the Valley still might not be enough to cover the damages incurred, even though a “second round” of funding means the Valley now gets millions more in hurricane aid.
Officials at a special meeting hosted by the Office of Rural Community Affairs (ORCA) on Aug. 13 in Weslaco announced that the Valley has received more than $141 million, from more than $1.7 billion statewide, in a second round of funding for hurricane relief by U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
About $90 million will go to housing in the Valley. More than $50 million will go to non-housing activities like generators ($3.5 million), healthcare facilities ($1.4 million) and economic development ($5.6 million).
Gov. Rick Perry has tapped ORCA as the lead agency to allocate billions received for disaster recovery. ORCA will be responsible for administrative matters. The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) will develop the action plan and manage housing activities.
“I don’t have enough information at my disposal to say that everything will 100 percent taken care of. My initial feeling is that would not be the case,” said Ken Jones, executive director of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Corporation (LRGVDC). The LRGVDC is the regional link between federal and state programs, and is charged with reviewing grant applications, environmental assessments and impact statements before they are funded or approved.
“It’s not totally enough but it will get the region much further down the road obviously than the limitations we had in the funding in the first round,” Jones said.
In December 2008 leaders in the Valley seethed about preliminary damage estimates put out by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the 2008 hurricane season.
At that time a report by HUD said that the LRGVDC was slated to receive only $15.3 million for the three county area of Cameron, Willacy, and Hidalgo in the aftermath of Hurricane Dolly. Initial damage estimates were provided by FEMA became the basis for that allocated amount.
According to County Judge J.D. Salinas, however, Hidalgo County alone suffered $231 million worth of damage. Salinas pointed out that in Hidalgo County, 16,831 individual applications for housing assistance were sent to FEMA but only 5,970 were approved.
It wasn’t until pressure by Rio Grande Valley elected officials forced ORCA to provide an extra $40 million more for Hurricane Dolly relief, making $55 million in total.
The second round are “mid course adjustments that will utilize the latest information available, address unmet needs and compliment the locally driven first round of funding” of more than $1.3 billion, according to HUD.
“With the second round allocation it is much better because instead of using the incomplete FEMA data as what the state initially did for the first round, they have used some additional data that was cited in the action plan in terms of rainfall, wind damage and other factors and criteria,” Jones said.
Texas was impacted by Hurricanes Ike and Dolly, and a significant tropical storm within a 52 day time frame. Preliminary damage estimates for the 2008 hurricane season total more than $29.4 billion, according to a South Texas Plan for Disaster Recovery report put out by HUD.