05/11/17 — Storm aid falls short

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Storm aid falls short

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 11, 2017 9:57 AM

Gov. Roy Cooper Wednesday expressed shock and disappointment in the Trump administration and congressional leadership for failing to honor the state's request for additional disaster relief funding.

Ironically, Cooper made his comments during a hurricane preparedness program at RDU International Airport.

Cooper had sought $929 million to help the state recover from Hurricane Matthew that last October caused $4.8 billion in damages across the state's 50 hardest-hit counties.

Of the $929 million, $600 million was requested from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Relief for housing repair/renovation in impacted areas.

But HUD allowed for only $6.1 million, or less than 1 percent of the $929 million that Cooper said is needed to help communities and families repair homes and businesses and recover from historic flooding.

The remaining requests in the $929 million total package, which included appropriations from other purposes/agencies, such as for crop damage, business repair and public buildings, were ignored, Cooper said.

More than 82,000 households in the state have registered for help with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and some families are still staying in hotels because of the lack of rental and low-income housing, Cooper said.

Wayne County is among the four hardest-hit counties. The others are Cumberland, Robeson and Edgecombe counties.

Wayne County has applied for $32 million for 306 property buyouts and $3.9 million for 23 housing elevations. It has yet to hear what will be funded.

Also, as of mid-April, 23 Wayne County families were still dislocated, and nine were receiving temporary housing assistance.

Also, 14 families were in FEMA trailers in the county.

State House Majority Leader John Bell of Goldsboro said that he, too, is disappointed.

"While we are thankful for all outside assistance with our hurricane recovery effort, we are extremely disappointed that the $6.1 million in federal aid approved by Congress earlier today fell well short of our $900 million request," Bell said.

Hurricane Matthew devastated nearly 100,000 homes in rural North Carolina and left a $1.5 billion financial burden in its wake, he said.

"A majority of the communities affected, many located in my district, lack the resources to re-build their communities themselves, leaving thousands of North Carolinians unable to return to their normal, everyday lives," Bell said. "Nonetheless, we will continue moving forward as a state and seek cooperation and leadership from the North Carolina congressional delegation in finding alternative funding solutions."

Also, in response to questions posed by Bell's office, staffers in the office of GOP Congressman Robert Pittenger said the omnibus bill fully funds FEMA at $7.3 billion "to ensure" the state's needs can be met through that agency.

Pittenger, who represents the state's 9th Congressional District that stretches from southern Mecklenburg County to Robeson County, said there also would be more than $200 million more in federal Housing and Urban Development funding for 2017.

Cooper said he had worked with Sen. Thom Tillis and Reps. David Price and David Rouzer on compiling the unmet needs request to Congress.

In a letter to Trump, Cooper called for more robust aid, especially in the form of housing block grants from HUD, in the upcoming budget process for housing, public buildings and infrastructures -- the state's most critical and immediate needs.

He reiterated the critical and immediate need for support and urged the president to visit affected communities to better understand the challenges that remain.

"Families across Eastern North Carolina need help to rebuild and recover, and it is an incredible failure by the Trump administration and congressional leaders to turn their backs," Cooper said. "Matthew was a historic storm and we are still working every day to help families return home and rebuild their communities.

"North Carolinians affected by this storm cannot be ignored by the Trump administration and congressional leadership, and I will continue to work with our congressional delegation to get North Carolina residents affected by the storm the help they deserve."

Cooper said he has asked that Trump and Congress prioritize the economic and humanitarian needs of the state as Trump prepares his budget recommendation for Congress.

The state's citizens and communities are struggling, and will only be able to make a full recovery with the aid of much needed federal assistance, Cooper said in the letter.

"As we look ahead to the 2018 budget cycle and the prospect of drastic reductions in domestic spending, the need in North Carolina is still very real," he said. "Many affected North Carolinians feel that they have been forgotten, and though the floodwaters may have receded, I refuse to let these needs go unmet.

"Whether through an immediate supplement spending bill or through the 2018 appropriations process, the federal government must rise to the occasion to support this recovery."

The state is recovering but too many people are still unable to return to their homes, offices, schools, farms or places of worship because of water damage, debris, mildew or road closure, Cooper said.