State and fed to spend hundreds of millions on disaster recovery in N.C.

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
North Carolina House majority leader Rep. John Bell

RALEIGH — More than $200 million dollars in state funds was allocated in the days before Christmas to help communities and victims of floods in the eastern part of the state and fires in the west. Gov. Pat McCrory signed the the Disaster Recovery Act of 2016 into law Dec. 15 after lawmakers came back to Raleigh to pass the bill. It distributes money to help with housing, food assistance and small business recovery. McCrory appeared in person before both the Senate and House appropriations committees urging lawmakers to show “compassion and urgency” in passing the bill.”Since Hurricane Matthew and wildfires have impacted our state, we have learned valuable lessons for the future and listened to the needs of those still suffering,” said McCrory. “This bill will provide some immediate assistance to citizens as they recover, especially during the Christmas holidays and winter months. This is the first step in long-term recovery efforts.”The elements of the bill were determined by the Hurricane Matthew recovery committee, comprised of mayors and community leaders in hard hit areas, and headed up by McCrory’s chief of staff Thomas Stith. The General Assembly passed it unanimously in the first of a series of special sessions in December.”This bill will help individuals, schools and small businesses,” said Majority Leader John Bell (R-Wayne). “It was our time to act to bring certainty to those affected by these disasters.”The bill allocates more than $100 million from the state’s Savings Reserve Account (commonly referred to as the Rainy Day Fund), and another $100 million from the General Fund.The measure makes clear that the money set aside in this legislation is not available for the governor — McCrory now and Governor-elect Roy Cooper after the first of the year — to use as a supplement in other areas of government.”Because the General Assembly will convene shortly after this bill is enacted and has continuing authority to address the state’s disaster relief needs, the General Assembly finds that broad Executive expenditure flexibility over the funds appropriated is not warranted,” the bill reads.The measure requires the governor to set up advisory boards to advise the agencies with disaster funds and requires that any money not spent be considered savings and not rolled into the state’s General Fund.Other details in the bill include deeming eastern public schools that missed more than two days in October or western schools that missed more than two days in November due to disaster be allowed to not make up those days. The bill also allows the governor to waive certain Division of Motor Vehicle fees for citizens impacted by the hurricane.The money will be supplemented with $300 million in federal dollars that the state’s Washington, D.C., delegation has been working to secure. Still N.C. lawmakers described the relief act as merely “phase one” in recovery efforts. The General Assembly reconvenes Jan. 7 for its regular legislative session in which additional bills may be filed to offer further relief as affected communities better understand their needs following the impact of Hurricane Matthew and the fires in the western part of the state.