LUMBERTON — A house being rehabilitated in the Burnt Island community is the first in North Carolina to be repaired using federal Hurricane Matthew disaster recovery funds.
The home is off Old Whiteville Road, said Emily Jones, a county government spokesperson. The work is being paid for using money from the Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery program.
“County Manager Ricky Harris is encouraged to see the results of all the hard work and hopes to see many more families homes restored,” Jones wrote in a press release.
The homeowners did not want to be identified.
The Rebuild NC Application Center, located at 405 Dunn Road in Lumberton, is still accepting applications from homeowners whose property was damaged by Hurricane Matthew. Homeowners can go online to https://www.rebuild.nc.gov/ for more information.
Another sign federal recovery and flood mitigation funds are starting to reach Robeson County is the receipt from state government of information needed to set up an account into which Hurricane Matthew recovery money is to be deposited.
That information was received Friday, according to Dixon Ivey Jr., county Planning director. The information was forwarded to the county Finance Department so the final step toward receiving the money can be completed.
The total amount to be received for use in the county’s unincorporated areas, excluding the city of Lumberton and town of Red Springs, is $5,306,597, according to Ivey. Of that amount $2,098,914 will go toward flood mitigation construction, $806,589 for flood mitigation elevation, and $2,401,094 to buy homes severely damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Matthew’s floodwaters.
“We have sent out Request For Proposal letters to approximately 400 minority vendors to submit sealed bids for the proposed projects,” Ivey said in a statement. “At last count we have received two. Once the bids are opened and reviewed we will determine if we need to reach out to vendors outside of our area in order to complete all of our projects by the deadline we were given on Wednesday of this week of July 12, 2020.”
Robeson County’s good financial news comes in the wake of months of criticism by state lawmakers over the snail’s pace at which $236.5 million in block grants is being distributed. Rep. Brenden Jones, a Republican from Tabor City, is one of the most vocal critics. Jones sent a letter on Monday to Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, asking questions about why the money is being stalled at the state level and what lawmakers can do to help speed up the money’s release.
“There are a number of reasons why this money has been slow to be distributed,” Jones said recently. “Following Hurricane Matthew North Carolina Emergency Management, led by Director Mike Sprayberry, restructured their process for how funds like the CDBG-DR grants are to be administered. A complicated process was created by entrenched bureaucrats in Raleigh, and after South Carolina’s government had successfully distributed the majority of their funds North Carolina had barely begun the process to even review.”
Nick Burk, NCEM assistant director, testified before the Select Committee on Disaster Relief on April 16 that as of that day not a single applicant had made it past step four of an eight-step process and that only 500 applicants had progressed beyond step one, Rep. Jones said. As of April 16 not a single dollar had left HUD because state Emergency Management had not moved anyone along the process far enough to begin to administer funds.
“Because of Gov. Cooper’s administration’s slow response HUD labeled North Carolina as a ‘slow spender,’ which endangers the status of the money granted to North Carolina,” Jones said.
Burk assured members of the Committee on Disaster Relief in April that they were on pace to meet a June 30 deadline to begin construction from funds secured through HUD, Jones said. The deadline was missed, making it the second self-imposed deadline that Cooper’s administration has missed.
“I was elected just a few weeks after Hurricane Matthew hit our community, and it has been my mission to make sure the folks in Southeastern North Carolina are not forgotten,” Jones said. “I will continue to hold our administration accountable to their duty. Southeastern North Carolina cannot wait any longer.”
Sprayberry recently replied via letter to Jones’ letter.
“The NCEM team is working as quickly as possible to get CDBG-DR funds to local communities to assist disaster survivors. Federal requirements for the CDBG-DR program are significant and stringent, but our EM team, along with our partners at Commerce and local governments are working to meet them,” Sprayberry’s letter reads in part.
The state already has spent more than $739 million on Hurricane Matthew recovery programs, Sprayberry said in his letter. And the state is in line to receive another $168 million in CDBG-DR funding, but the state must first await the Federal Registry publication before submitting a plan detailing how that money will be spent.
Sprayberry’s letter indicates that $143,223,469 has been allocated for Robeson County, and some of this money already has been spent. The money total includes grants and insurance payments.
The total for Columbus County is $26,201,181, and $12,790,966 for Bladen County.
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]