The Houston Chronicle
Can you hear us now? The Trump administration’s outrageous delays in making available more than $12 billion in storm-recovery funds - about $4.3 billion of the total is for Texas - have finally been dealt with.
The House recently approved a Senate bill that sets a 90-day countdown for the administration to formally invite states such as Texas to submit spending plans for the money. That will kick-start the release of the funds. That means flood recovery funds approved by Congress just months after Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017 will get to Texas in 2020.
That’s astoundingly tardy, and yet even getting that much grease in the gears took - quite literally - an act of Congress.
When Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush began raising hell with the administration over the delays early this year, folks at Housing and Urban Development, which administers the funds, and the Office of Management of Budget, which approves all new rules, seemed anything but fazed. At that time, aides to both Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. John Cornyn told the editorial board that they had also been hammering at the administration to add a sense of urgency. None of that got far.
Instead, what worked was individual members of Congress decided to cross party lines and introduce legislation that would force the administration’s hand.
Cornyn teamed with Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat, on a bill to require the disbursement of the funds. A similar bill was authored in the House by a gaggle of members of Congress, including Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Houston. Neither bill passed, but Cornyn and others managed to include its basic provisions in a larger disaster funding bill that did. Now all that’s required is President Donald Trump’s signature, which he’s expected to give.
Congratulations to Cornyn, Manchin and the House members who made it so. Perhaps there’s a lesson about dealing with the president: Talk is cheap, but legislation can produce results.
As we await the presidential signature, we note that many questions have been left unanswered. Why was the administration so slow? HUD officials told the editorial board earlier this year that because the funds were being spent in new ways - on preventing future flood damage rather than repairing damage from previous floods - new rules were needed. Congress was right to change the focus of these funds, but HUD should never have allowed the simple change to slow things down so profoundly. Others worried that the real reason for the delays flowed from the president’s bitter reaction to Puerto Rico and the recovery it so badly needs in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
Absent proof, we’ll pray that the latter feud played no role in the delays. And either way, the intricacies of Team Trump’s machinations can be the subject for a debate another day. The welcome news this week is that Congress intervened in a way that should pay dividends for Texas, and fairly soon.