LUMBERTON — One local legislator believes the spigot for relief money for Robeson County and other counties devastated by Hurricane Matthew is about to be turned on.
“They are getting ready to release some money in May,” said Rep. Garland Pierce, a Democrat from Wagram, when asked Friday why $236 million in federal disaster recovery money the state received in fall 2017 has yet to be released.
“The process has been slow based on FEMA regulations,” Pierce said.
Gov. Roy Cooper’s office sent out word that recovery money is coming, he said.
The funds to be released in May are part of the ReBuild NC program and made possible by North Carolina’s allocation of Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to information released Monday by Cooper’s office.
“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,” said Mike Sprayberry, state Department of Emergency Management director. “North Carolina is currently on target to begin sending the first homeowner reimbursement checks in May, and we’re glad to learn just this week that HUD has awarded North Carolina more of these funds.”
Money is available to help qualified low- and moderate-income families and individuals with Hurricane Matthew housing recovery, according to the Cooper release. The state partnered with local communities to open application centers where Hurricane Matthew survivors can apply for the funds starting last November.
Hurricane Matthew Housing Application Centers currently are open in Cumberland, Edgecombe, Robeson and Wayne counties, the four communities hit hardest by the storm, according to the release. Applicants in any of the 22 counties designated for Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funding can call 2-1-1 to schedule an appointment at one of the centers to begin the application process.
Applications for the funds go through a detailed process requiring multiple checks for eligibility, duplication of benefit, environmental reviews, and more, according to the information released by Cooper’s office. State personnel are working with applicants to ensure applications are completed quickly.
In addition to the original $236 million in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds designated for North Carolina, an additional $168 million in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds was announced earlier this week and will come to North Carolina following the next federal register.
“Our goal is rebuilding stronger and better so North Carolina will be more resilient in the face of future disasters,” Sprayberry said. “We’re working with federal, state and local leaders to cut through red tape and get help to those who need it most.”
In the meantime, Sprayberry has been called to appear before the House Select Committee on Disaster Relief on April 30, said Rep. Brenden Jones, a Republican from Tabor City. Sprayberry will be asked to explain why the state has been so slow to release disaster relief money.
“I’m demanding something be done immediately,” Jones said. “It’s been two years now.”
Jones and Pierce are on the Disaster Relief Committee. Both state lawmakers represent Robeson County in the General Assembly.
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. That prompted a lot of criticism, including from state Sen. Danny Britt and state Rep. Charles Graham, other legislators who represent Robeson County.
There are reports that South Carolina’s recovery efforts are month ahead of North Carolina’s efforts.
“South Carolina has more experience with the disaster recovery process,” Pierce said.
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]