State Lawmakers Approve $850 Million Florence Relief Bill

RALEIGH – Lawmakers returned to the General Assembly on Monday to approve the Hurricane Florence Disaster Recovery Act, in which nearly $850 million dollars is appropriated for relief efforts addressing damages from the historic storm.

Of the funds, roughly half (~$400 million) are specifically allocated to different state agencies to begin recovery actions.

The legislation stipulates that the State agencies will identify savings, federal aid opportunities and matches, and other ways to mitigate the total amount spent.

Supplied in the form of grants, some of the funds will go toward emergency scholarships for qualifying students in the UNC System or N.C. Community Colleges. Other funds will be go toward construction, to repair schools in the storm’s path or to give loans and grants to private citizens to rebuild their homes or businesses. The largest chunk of taxpayer money will be granted to the Department of Agriculture so that farmers who lost most or all of their crop due to the storm can be made whole, or as close to it as possible.

State officials estimate Florence’s damages at more than $13 billion.

Of course, if Democrats had control of the legislature over the last few years, who knows how little money would be available in the Rainy-Day Fund to help with such disasters. Leading Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Roy Cooper himself whined about the Republican legislature putting so much of the State’s surplus revenues in the savings reserve funds, instead wanting to spend the money away on campaign issues.

The monies will not be substitutes for those still waiting on Hurricane Matthew relief funds.

From the News & Observer:

“Many of the people who were hit by Hurricane Florence this year were hit by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 — and in many cases are still awaiting their federal money from the storm two years ago. But not all of the damage overlapped between the two storms, and legislators said Monday that they wouldn’t take away Matthew recovery funds to pay for Florence recovery efforts.

“Matthew should stand on its own,” said Sen. Brent Jackson, a Republican from Duplin County, which suffered major damage in both storms.”

Of course there is quite a bit of other people’s money going toward building low-income housing and buy out programs to incentivize people to move out of flood zones. The Democrats complained the latter wouldn’t be enough to afford new housing, arguing the taxpayers should pony up more to move people out of flood zones.

“In addition to short-term repair grants, the state will also spend millions more on a fund that helps the federal government build more affordable housing projects through the Section 8 program.

Government officials will also have the money to buy out some homeowners in flood-prone areas, although there is concern that people will turn down the offers because the money they’d be eligible for wouldn’t be enough to move anywhere else.

“My concern is when we buy someone out … their buyout may not even allow them to have affordable housing,” said Rep. Charles Graham, a Democrat who represents the hard-hit area of Lumberton. “Their home’s tax value might not be sufficient to allow them to move to another area.”

Leave it to Democrats to find a way to complain that $850 million in saved tax revenues is not enough for some constituents.

The rest of the appropriated funds, about $450 million, will be allocated next month after the elections. This latest bill adds to the more than $50 million in disaster relief the General Assembly appropriated earlier this month.

Read more here.

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