LUMBERTON — Robeson County’s state senator is laying the blame at the slow feet of the North Carolina government for hundreds of millions of dollars in federal disaster recovery money not getting to the people who desperately need it.
Much of that money was designated for Robeson County, said Sen. Danny Britt Jr., a Republican from Lumberton.
According to published reports, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a report in late March stating that the North Carolina government has not spent any of the $236 million in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds received this past fall. The money is intended to help recovery efforts from Hurricane Matthew, which devastated Robeson County and large areas of North Carolina and South Carolina in October 2016.
“Yes the report is real and the $236 million has not been spent,” Britt said. “This money goes directly to the (N.C.) Department of Emergency Management, an office under the direction of Gov. (Roy) Cooper. Due to multiple failures this money has not yet been spent.”
The senator said he has been working to get the money released, or at least speed up the distribution process.
“I have made numerous written requests to open the administration of these monies up to an RFP (Request For Proposal) process statewide,” Britt said. “This is the process South Carolina utilized. However the Governor’s Office and the state Department of Emergency Management have ignored these requests.”
Published reports indicate that South Carolina’s recovery effort is moving faster than North Carolina’s.
According to those reports, the two states accepted disaster recovery funds at about the same time this past fall. North Carolina leaders decided to award Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds to the counties, which would use the money to help people repair or replace their homes.
South Carolina leaders anticipated starting constructions on homes in October, yet the application for assistance had not yet begun in North Carolina. About seven months later, at least 52 families have moved into new or repaired homes in South Carolina, while families in North Carolina that were victims of Hurricane Matthew have not seen help.
It may be some time before Hurricane Matthew’s victims in Robeson County see any of that $236 million.
“After several months I was successful, however, in getting the state to allow a private company to administer the program in Robeson County, but the Governor’s Office and the N.C. Department of Emergency Management until January still insisted on performing many aspects,” Britt said. “One of these aspects is the environmental plan that must be submitted for the money to be received. The Governor’s Office failed to perform the process correctly as required by HUD guidelines. The environmental plan is required to be conducted by each county individually. The state tried to do it as one plan for the entire state.”
The senator is a member of the Emergency Management Oversight Committee. He is asking for a special meeting to be called, Britt said.
“This is a problem myself and Rep. Brenden Jones pointed out over a year ago,” Britt said. Jones is a Republican who represents Robeson County.
The leaders of Robeson County’s government would love to see the money released, said Kellie Blue, assistant county manager. They want to help the many county residents who still are waiting on the money they need to repair or rebuild their homes.
But the county doesn’t have the money some residents believe it does, she said.
“We’re waiting for it to trickle its way to the local level,” Blue said.
State Emergency Management officials say Hurricane Matthew recovery work is underway.
“Our goal is rebuilding stronger and better so North Carolina will be more resilient in the face of future disasters. We’re continuing to push to get assistance to the families, businesses and communities working to recover while making sure taxpayer dollars are being used effectively,” Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said in a statement.
According to Sprayberry’s department, more than $550 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funding has been allocated by North Carolina to date, including nearly $100 million to about 26,000 families in need and $250 million to public infrastructure repair projects. More than 2,600 Small Business Administration home and business loans have been approved for a total of more than $100 million. Ninety-five percent, or 1,809 of 1,901 projects, of all the anticipated public assistance projects identified by local governments, including things such as debris removal, emergency protective measures, and repairs to community facilities, has been obligated.
North Carolina partnered with local communities to open application centers in late November in the four hardest hit communities, according to state Emergency Management. Funds are available through HUD’s Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery program to help qualified low-moderate income families and individuals with housing recovery. Hurricane Matthew survivors that still need help are urged to apply. Applicants must complete a detailed process requiring multiple checks for eligibility, duplication of benefit, environmental reviews, and more. Staffers are working with applicants to ensure applications are completed quickly. The first participants are expected to receive assistance in May.
An additional $168 million in CDBG-DR funds will come to North Carolina after the next federal register.
UNCP Board of Trustees
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected] Television station WBTV of Charlotte contributed to this report.