U.S. Rep. Michael Cloud voted against a bill that would release $4.3 billion in funding to better protect Texas from future hurricanes.
The bill, which would free up or allocate $19 billion for disaster aid throughout the country, was passed by the House on Monday by a vote of 354 to 58. The legislation will head to President Donald Trump and he is expected to sign it.
Cloud represents the 27th District of Texas, much of which was devastated by Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, with many communities still working to rebuild. The legislation would allow Texas to start planning how to spend $4.3 billion that was already promised to the state last year after Hurricane Harvey, but remains untouchable until the Office of Management and Budget publishes the guidelines that regulate how the state can spend the money. The bill stipulates that the federal office publishes those guidelines within 90 days after the bill becomes law.
A spokesman for Cloud said he was not available for an interview Wednesday, but in a statement, Cloud said the bill would add to the national debt.
“I have a long and successful record of securing disaster aid for our region, but just because this bill was called disaster aid does not mean it’s a good bill. The $19 billion this bill aims to spend is not offset, meaning the entire amount would be borrowed and added to our already-massive national debt, even though at least $18 billion in previously approved disaster aid is still sitting around unspent,” Cloud said in the emailed statement. “The bill also includes funds that would likely be used for entirely unrelated purposes, taking advantage of the disaster process to fund non-disaster programs. The bill does contain some positive elements, including certain administrative changes that I have been pushing, but these do not justify creating so much new spending and debt while a huge fund of previously approved disaster aid remains untapped.”
Cloud continued in the statement to say he would work to free up existing disaster relief funds and help families and communities navigate the Federal Emergency Management Agency process.
Cloud joined five of his fellow Texas Republicans in voting against the measure. Cloud is the only Texas congressman from an area affected by Harvey to vote against the measure. The rest of the Texas delegation, including 16 Republicans, voted for the bill.
Both U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn have urged the federal government to release the funding, and Cornyn is credited with adding a countdown provision to the bill that requires the guidelines to be published 90 days after it becomes law.
Once those regulations are published, the Texas General Land Office can begin to plan what mitigation projects it can pay for using the money. This $4.3 billion pot of money is the second allocation from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help Texas recover from Harvey, as well as earlier floods in 2015 and 2016. The first allocation, for $5 billion, was specifically for housing-related projects after Harvey.
In Victoria, some of that money is reimbursing homeowners whose homes were damaged by Harvey. That same pot of money will also eventually help the city pay for projects that will protect housing in future disasters and start a home buyout program for homes in the city’s floodplain.
The bill also allocates money for some of the dozens of recent natural disasters. It includes $3 billion for the Department of Agriculture to help farmers who lost their crops in Hurricanes Michael and Florence or other floods and natural disasters.
The 27th District spans the Gulf Coast of Texas from Corpus Christi to Matagorda County, and north toward Austin to parts of Bastrop County. Communities like Rockport and Port Aransas suffered some of the worst damage from Harvey, but the destruction also affected communities further inland in Victoria County and elsewhere.