Wednesday, 05 June 2019 19:58

House disaster relief leaders pan Cooper’s hurricane response

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Gov. Roy Cooper visits Richmond County following Hurricane Florence in 2018. House Republicans are criticizing the administration's response to recent hurricanes. Gov. Roy Cooper visits Richmond County following Hurricane Florence in 2018. House Republicans are criticizing the administration's response to recent hurricanes.

RALEIGH — Co-chairmen of the House Select Committee on Disaster Relief panned sluggish hurricane relief efforts by the Cooper administration. They want renewed oversight authority.

“The people of eastern and southeastern North Carolina deserve better. They cannot afford any more delays and missteps,” House Majority Leader John Bell, R-Wayne, and Deputy House Majority Leader Brenden Jones, R-Columbus, said in a letter sent Monday, June 3, to House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland.

Bell and Jones represent districts battered by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018. Moore responded late Monday afternoon with the following statement:

“These agonizing delays to deliver housing aid to hurricane victims are simply inexcusable as North Carolinians continue to recover from two major storms that ravaged their communities. I appreciate the initiative of Majority Leader John Bell and Deputy Majority Leader Brenden Jones and will reauthorize the House Select Committee on Disaster Relief in the coming days to help ensure hurricane aid reaches those in desperate need of assistance as soon as possible.”

Attempts to get responses from Gov. Roy Cooper and House Minority Leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake, weren’t successful.

The lawmakers’ letter followed the May 20 release of a report critical of the administration’s mishandling of the Hurricane Matthew recovery.

The General Assembly’s nonpartisan Program Evaluation Division concluded the administration’s response to Hurricane Matthew involved “missteps,” “delays,” and “unnecessary spending” in response.

“We believe this is unacceptable and it is our duty as legislators to help bring accountability and oversight while also identifying opportunities to speed up the process and make sure it does not happen again,” the lawmakers’ letter said.

Bell and Jones cited the program evaluators’ report showing the Cooper administration spent only 1%, or $3.4 million, of a $236.5 million federal grant as of December 2018. That was nearly two years after Hurricane Matthew made landfall in October 2016, causing significant damage in 50 counties. Updated figures show 3.1%, or $7.36 million, was spent as of March 2019.

The report said the state spent about $3.7 million unnecessarily due to noncompliant contracts. Problems with the design of recovery programs also delayed distribution of funds.

Laura Hogshead, chief operating officer of the newly created state Office of Recovery and Resiliency, has defended the pace of her agency’s response. She largely blamed the complexities of satisfying federal regulations, and lack of state staff experienced in the federal grant process. The state departments of public safety and commerce similarly defended their roles in distributing recovery payments.

In addition to the federal recovery funds, the General Assembly has appropriated more than $1 billion from its rainy-day reserve for disaster recovery from Matthew and Florence.

The proposed Senate two-year budget appropriates $1.1 billion to replenish that savings fund, bringing it up to a record $2.3 billion. Estimates say $2.6 billion to $2.7 billion is needed to weather the next downturn in the economy.