State lawmakers to examine disaster funding needs

Washington delegation secures $1.68 billion “down payment” toward hurricane recovery

FILE- In this Sept. 17, 2018, file photo floodwater from Hurricane Florence threatens homes in Dillon, S.C. In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, thousands of people in the Carolinas are still waiting to return to their homes. Those who have are assessing the damage. The exact financial impact will become apparent over time as insurance claims roll in. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

RALEIGH — The North Carolina General Assembly will convene Tuesday, Oct. 2 to work on legislation to help victims from Hurricane Florence get on the road to recovery.

The date of the special session went back and forth between Gov. Roy Cooper and the state legislature this week, as lawmakers wanted to move up the date to this week, rather than wait until Oct. 9, as Cooper had requested.

“Members of the Congressional delegation have indicated to us the earliest possible date for a relief package is next week,” said a joint letter to the governor from House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) and Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham). “Proactively clearing potential legal and fiscal hurdles in preparation for a federal relief package will signal to our Congressional partners that North Carolina is ready to immediately begin the process of aid disbursal.”

The legislature opted instead to meet Oct. 2, then reconvene Oct. 9. They said the session will address “pressing needs for education communities, provide policy flexibility to storm victims, and prepare for a fourth disaster recovery act since 2016.”

“The disaster recovery process is familiar to North Carolina lawmakers from both a budgeting and policy standpoint,” Moore said, “and we are ready to get to work passing key reforms and preparing funding to accelerate the storm recovery and help victims through this difficult time.”

Lawmakers could dip into the state’s rainy-day fund, which now stands at $2 billion. The emergency reserve fund is intended for natural and economic disasters. Separately, the legislature appropriated more than $360 million for Hurricane Matthew recovery the last two years.

Lawmakers are also working with state Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Mark Johnson to hash out school schedules and missed instructional days in the areas hit by Florence.

House Education Committee co-chair Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union) said lawmakers from both chambers are “working together, both houses and both parties, on a comprehensive disaster relief bill to get the immediate needs addressed.”

On Sunday, the U.S. approved a request from Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) to fund $1.14 billion to North Carolina and $540 million to South Carolina in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, calling it a “down payment” on the looming financial needs associated with Hurricane Florence recovery. It will come through the Community Development Block Grants.

“This has been a truly Team Carolina effort, beginning before Florence even made landfall,” said Tillis. “We have had productive meetings and conversations with congressional leaders to secure disaster relief and an initial down payment.”

“The $1.68 billion in disaster relief we’ve secured will allow tens of thousands of North Carolinians who lost their homes and businesses to begin rebuilding their lives,” said Burr.