Black counties less likely to receive disaster aid after Hurricane Harvey

by Erika DuBose
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Democratic politicians are examining the federal financial support being provided to areas affected by Hurricane Harvey in Texas in 2017. Most of the counties that will receive aid are populated by inland White families, rather than coastal, underserved communities that need help the most.  

In fact, much of the Hurricane Harvey aid is slated to inland areas that were less likely to have been affected by the natural disaster. Not a single home in Coryell, Texas, was damaged by the storm, yet the county is scheduled to receive over $3 million in aid. 

And Democrats are questioning the motives behind providing aid to such areas. The decision about such financial support came from the Texas General Land Office and its commissioner, George P. Bush.

Recently, the Texas General Land Office distributed $1 million in financial aid – but gave nothing to Houston, which is nearly 25% Black. Consequently, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development accused Bush’s office of discriminating against Black and Latino Texans.

Due to economic and social injustice, more Black and Brown citizens live in areas subject to natural disasters, including flooding. Additionally, one study found that the federal government’s disaster response resources disproportionately leave out Black families. 

 Meanwhile, these facts have not gone unnoticed by Democratic politicians. U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, is questioning the financial resources provided for communities affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Black counties less likely to receive disaster aid after Hurricane Harvey

ROCKPORT, TX – AUGUST 26: A destroyed apartment complex is seen after Hurricane Harvey passed through on August 26, 2017 in Rockport, Texas. Harvey made landfall shortly after 11 p.m. Friday, just north of Port Aransas as a Category 4 storm and is being reported as the strongest hurricane to hit the United States since Wilma in 2005. Forecasts call for as much as 30 inches of rain to fall in the next few days. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Racial disparities in Hurricane Harvey disaster aid disbursement

According to Green, “We wanted to help people who were hurt by Harvey and had the potential to be hurt again, as opposed to people who were inland and not likely to have suffered great damage.”

George P. Bush, who is considering a run for Attorney General of Texas,  did not respond to a request for comments from media outlets. Neither did his office when asked about the disparities.

Decisions about what counties receive financial support is derived from a complicated system of evaluation. Initially, the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) named 20 mostly-coastal counties as the most vulnerable.

Yet, Bush chose an additional 29 counties as eligible for receiving financial assistance. Of those counties, most are populated by White families – and citizens who voted for Donald Trump.

According to Kevin Smiley, a professor of sociology at Louisiana State University, “It’s weird to think about disasters as one of the fundamental mechanisms widening social disparity in the United States, but they are. “And it’s through nitty-gritty governmental processes that are disbursing mitigation funds that are partly doing it.”

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