RGV Business Journal

HARLINGEN - At a public hearing in Harlingen on Dec. 15, the director of the Office of Rural Community Affair’s Disaster Recovery Division heard from Rio Grande Valley county judges and Councils of Government asking the state to reconsider the allocations of disaster recovery funds. The unanimous feeling was that South Texas would not receive an adequate share of recovery money compared to the damage sustained during Hurricane Dolly, based on the current proposed plan.

“It is not our intention to compete with East Texas. The Houston-Galveston area sustained plenty of damage from Hurricane Ike, and we are not arguing that. It is a matter of parity,” explained Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas. “We feel strongly that $15 million out of $1.3 billion for the four counties of Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy and Starr is completely inadequate.”

The state plans to use $197 million alone for planning and other $65 million for administration — 17 times more than the Lower Rio Grande Development Council’s proposed share.

According to the proposed Action Plan to distribute $1.3 billion in Community Development Block Grant funds throughout the state of Texas (you can find the plan at www.orca.state.tx.us), the funds may be used for public infrastructure, economic development and housing. Yet it is not clear what formula was used to arrive at the preliminary regional allocations; the plan only notes $50 million in housing damages in Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties.

In Hidalgo County, 16,831 individual applications for housing assistance were sent to FEMA; however, only 5,970 were approved, proof that the need for housing repair money in Hidalgo County is extreme.

In order to rebound, Hidalgo County’s funding should be increased and based on true numbers: $231 million in overall damages.

“We cannot even begin to address areas of highest need with the amount of funding proposed for Hidalgo County,” Judge Salinas said. “We are asking for the state to reconsider how the money is distributed.”

Hidalgo County leaders will also be including in their written request $415 million in proactive projects meant to increase the drainage capacity of Hidalgo County.

Citizens can submit written comments about the Proposed Action Plan by mail, email or fax by Jan. 5, 2009. Attn: Oralia Cardenas, Director Disaster Recovery Division, P.O. Box 12877, Austin, TX 78711. or Email: ocardenas@orca.state.tx.us.