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Legislators grill administration over Matthew recovery delays

April 16th, 2018

— Lawmakers dissatisfied with the pace of the state’s Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts and the news that North Carolina has spent none of the $236.5 million approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to get hurricane victims back in their homes, took Gov. Roy Cooper’s emissaries to task Monday.

They found little satisfaction in the back and forth, and the frustration was bipartisan.

Officials often promised to follow up with more details on the complex programs at issue, and at one point, it came out that the man sent to do the main briefing, Assistant Director for Resiliency Nick Burk, will be leaving the state Emergency Management Division in two-and-a-half months, well before recovery efforts wrap up.

“It seems like today we’re leaving with more questions than we actually have answers,” said oversight committee Chairman Rep. John Bell, R-Wayne.

Rep. Brenden Jones, R-Columbus, said it took him 83 days at one point to get responses from administration officials. Rep. Garland Pierce, D-Scotland, said he feels like a liar when he repeats state time lines to constituents who want to know when they’ll be back in their homes.

“We got calls on the phone on the way to committee today,” Pierce said some 18 months after Matthew flooded parts of eastern North Carolina. “People are still hurting. … We need to know, when are people really going to be helped.”

Administration officials acknowledged frustrations, and that indeed the state has not yet spent any of the $236 million HUD has approved. That figure actually increased last week to more than $400 million, funding that awaits resolution of an eight-step process for 1,500 people in the pipeline.

About 500 people have cleared the first or second step, Burk told lawmakers. The intake centers to process those applications opened in late November of last year, more than a year after the storm struck.

“A lot of work has been done,” Burk said. “It can never be fast enough.”

Other state officials have stressed that this is just one program of several and that $550 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency recovery funding has been allocated by the state so far, including nearly $100 million to approximately 26,000 families in need and $250 million for public infrastructure repairs. More than 2,600 Small Business Administration home and business loans have been approved for a total of more than $100 million, the department said.

But when it comes to the housing grants, HUD has labeled North Carolina a “slow spender.” The state is one of 67 with the designation on the federal department’s most recent list of 109 grantees it’s tracking. It’s one of two grantees from 2016 disasters that hasn’t spent a dollar yet from this pot.

On HUD’s list of more than 100 grantees, only 28 are classified as “on pace.” State officials said Monday that the pace of this recovery is actually ahead of Hurricane Floyd efforts.

Article source: http://www.wral.com/legislators-grill-administration-over-hurricane-matthew-delays/17490738/

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