Cooper asks for $750 million Florence relief ‘down payment’

By: Dan Way - Carolina Journal
Cooper

RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper has asked the General Assembly to authorize $1.5 billion to cover the state’s portion of what initial estimates show is nearly $13 billion in damage caused by Hurricane Florence.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Oct. 10, Cooper said he wants the legislature to make $750 million available when lawmakers return in special session Oct. 15. The money would assist not only recovery but also moving people and businesses such as hog farms out of the flood plain.

The governor’s total spending request would exhaust much of the $2 billion amassed by state lawmakers in North Carolina’s Rainy Day Fund.

“State lawmakers and fiscal staff are currently reviewing the damage assessments together in preparation for the legislature’s second disaster relief session next week,” said Joseph Kyzer, a spokesman for House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland. “They appreciate the administration’s ongoing recovery efforts, and can provide more feedback in the coming days after members have time to meet and study the figures.”

Bill D’Elia, spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, also thanked the governor while remaining noncommittal on specific requests.

“We are still reviewing Governor Cooper’s proposal, but all of North Carolina’s state and local government entities have been working together tirelessly over the past few weeks to get North Carolinians recovering from Hurricane Florence the help they so desperately need, and we will continue to do so,” D’Elia said. “We are hopeful that the experience of dealing with Hurricane Matthew will lead to an improved recovery process this time around.”

Meanwhile, Hurricane Michael was nearing landfall in the Florida Panhandle, with a northeastern trajectory aligned with North Carolina. Cooper signed Executive Order No. 74 Wednesday declaring a state of emergency for 66 North Carolina counties. Additional counties could be added if needed. The order authorizes the use of state resources to help local governments, should expedite requests for federal or state assistance, and activates the state law against price gouging.

Cooper also signed Executive Order No. 75 temporarily waiving the cap on maximum hours of service for trucks and heavy vehicles traveling in and through North Carolina. It lifts size and weight restrictions for trucks so farmers can harvest and transport crops and livestock more quickly when the storm hits. It can also help storm response vehicles and equipment moving into or through the state.

Hurricane Florence caused 40 deaths, and damage was about the same as losses from Hurricanes Matthew and Floyd combined, said Cooper, who has spent the past month surveying the devastation. Residents remain displaced, businesses destroyed, farms and crops flooded, and transportation and public works infrastructure damaged.

In his budget recommendation Cooper called for bipartisan cooperation to use state money to leverage federal disaster assistance funds. Other budget documents are available here.

Cooper said the state “must seize the opportunity to rebuild stronger, and smarter. We can repair the damage with more resilient buildings, roads, and homes. We can help move people and their belongings from harm’s way. We can make sure those who live and do business along our rivers are protected from flood waters.”

Preliminary estimates to handle damage and recovery were set at $3.9 billion to businesses, $3.4 billion to housing, $2.4 billion to agriculture, $816 million to utilities, water and sewer systems, $554 million to natural resources, $406 million to government property and revenue, $435 million to transportation, $297 million to education, $233 to health and human services, and $194 million in recovery operations.

Cooper’s recommendations include the following highlights:

$176 million for a Homeowner Repair and Rehabilitation Fund to help homeowners and renters.

$180 million for the State Acquisition and Relocation Fund to buy out, acquire, and reconstruct homes outside the 100-year floodplain.

$50 million for the Housing Finance Agency to address the shortage of affordable housing.

$12 million for the [email protected] Rapid Rehousing Program.

$20 million for small business loans and grants.

$5 million in assistance for Historically Underutilized Businesses.

$200 million for the NC Farmer Recovery Reinvestment Program to help farmers.

$75 million for the NC Farmer Resiliency Fund for hog farm buyouts and incentives to convert open lagoons.

$12 million in Commercial Fishing Assistance.

$25 million for wastewater and drinking water grants to promote resiliency to help systems withstand future storms.

$25 million to Golden LEAF to provide infrastructure grants to restore water and sewer systems and repair storm drainage systems.

$25 million to the Clean Water Management Trust Fund for flood abatement and surface water quality protection and improvement.

$5 million for a Dam Repair Cost Share Fund.

$88 million for flood-mapping projects, flood mitigation studies and planning.

$14 million to the City of Lumberton to support floodgates for the VFW Road underpass.

$25 million to help local governments with an Emergency Repairs and Renovation Reserve.

$25 million to Golden LEAF to help local governments repair and rebuild government facilities.

$50 million to leverage federal transportation money to build more resilient roads to mitigate effects of extreme weather.

$25 million in Flexible Emergency Funding for Public School Operations.

$10 million for stay-in-school assistance to help university and community college students.

$47 million for mental health services.

$3 million for substance use treatment programs.

$10 million to establish the Office of Recovery and Resiliency to streamline recovery programming and assistance.

$13 million to Department of Environmental Quality to address critical operational support and staffing for responding to and recovering from disasters.

$10 million in Rebuilding and Capacity Grants to help financially distressed local governments to support two-person rebuilding teams.

$10 million in Emergency Financial Assistance Grants for local governments that need immediate cash flow assistance.

$24 million in cash flow assistance to distressed agencies to help when federal awards greatly exceed small, local government operating budgets and cash reserves.

Dan Way is a staff writer for Carolina Journal

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Dan Way

Carolina Journal