by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
This week, Carolina Journal’s Brooke Conrad reported on North Carolina’s slow-moving response to hurricanes Florence and Matthew. Conrad writes:
Jones County residents are still feeling the effects of recent hurricanes. At least one of the county’s three towns remains flooded, and two of its six schools were condemned.
… Last year, flooding in Jones County damaged Trenton Elementary and Jones Middle School so heavily that teachers and students had to relocate to other buildings. As of June, the town of Trenton remained underwater, with the courthouse and jail yet to reopen.
This slow recovery could be a result of the state’s lagging response to these natural disasters. According to Conrad, in a recent news conference, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis commented on the slow pace at which the state has been issuing disaster relief funds:
North Carolina has spent just 7% of its disaster relief funding over the past 500 days, Tillis said.
Many families in southeastern North Carolina are still without homes nearly a year after Hurricane Florence devastated that part of the state, and three years after Hurricane Matthew. The state got $236 million within a matter of weeks, Tillis said.
Gov. Roy Cooper pushed back on Tillis’ remarks, Conrad writes:
Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, responded to Tillis’ accusations, saying the state has spent or committed $93 million of its Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery money from Hurricane Matthew.
Tillis Communications Director Dan Keylin said he’s never heard the term “committed,” with respect to grant funds. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has recorded 7% in spent funds.
If the governor is correct in saying $93 million has been “spent or committed,” that still would only amount to 39% — or less than half — of the $236 million originally awarded.
According to Conrad, this has been an ongoing trend:
A General Assembly program evaluation report says North Carolina has “consistently” been identified as a slow spender, a term referring to organizations that spend less than 10% of the amount they would need to use up the grant by the proposed end date.
Tillis commented that this could hurt the state’s ability to receive future federal disaster relief funds:
Tillis emphasized it will be difficult to ask the federal government for more if the state fails to spend what it already has.
… “I’m telling you, it hurts our case when we’re designated as a slow spender, when other states that experienced similar damage are doing much, much better,” Tillis said.