State Lawmakers Pass Florence Relief Bills

RALEIGH – Members of the N.C. House and Senate huddled on Jones Street Tuesday to give some initial relief to those impacted by Hurricane Florence. Aside from funds, adjustments were made for affected school districts, and voter registration deadlines were extended.

On the latter issue, Senate Bill 2 addresses calendar changes and pay for school personnel.

[…] if the governing body of a public school unit closed any school under its control due to unusual and extraordinary inclement weather conditions related to Hurricane Florence, calendar flexibility for instructional time missed due to Hurricane Florence during the months of September 2018 and October 2018 […]

The bill stipulates that any districts within federally declared disaster areas can write off up to 20 days of missed instruction due to the storm, or they can also choose to make up as many of those days they deem necessary while writing off the rest.

Those schools not within disaster zones, but may have missed more than two days due to the storm or flooding, can also mark those days as completed. There are obviously less of these scenarios; a full 28 counties were declared disaster areas by the federal government.

As far as school personnel, the bill offers $6.5 million in non-recurring funds and clarifies that school employees be paid for the days of missed instruction due to Hurricane Florence as if they were operating on a normal schedule.

The bill also included adjustments for internships and the like, as many students were unable to meet time requirements due to the storm.

Now for the disaster relief funds: House Bill 4.

The bill establishes the Hurricane Florence Disaster Recovery Fund, and funds it with $56.5 million in taxpayer monies to address recovery efforts after the storm.

$6.5 million of this fund is, as mentioned above, designated for school personnel pay.

The remaining $50 million is designated to provide the state match for federal disaster assistance programs, and to pay for the costs of administering relief for the 28 counties designated as major disaster areas.

The State will also serve as a conduit for federal disaster relief funds. As we learned with Hurricane Matthew, the added layers of bureaucracy involved in recievng and distributing federal grants for disaster relief can make that process painfully slow. As it turns out, ‘more government; more problems.’

House Bill 4 adds, “The Office of State Budget and Management and affected State agencies shall report all notifications of award to the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations and the Fiscal Research Division of the General Assembly.”

Hundreds of millions in federal funds granted to the State in response to Hurricane Florence two years ago have still not been utilized. The executive branch is in charge of those programs for distribution, and state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have lashed out at the administration of Gov. Roy Cooper for the slow pace.

The above provision makes sure the legislature is clued into exactly what is happening with Florence funds from the federal government. Everyone is hoping to avoid a situation in which Florence disaster grants from the federal government are still not being put to work come 2020.

Lawmakers plan to return on October 15 to continue addressing issues that emerge as a result of this historic storm.

Dozens of people – men, women, and children – were killed by the storm or its consequences; thousands have lost their homes and belongings; and hundreds of communities face years of recovery efforts to make themselves whole again. While lawmakers do what they do, it is hardly the end-all-be-all. It is important to recognize the primary role of charity and community spirit in piecing people’s lives back together. The spirit and strength exhibited by the many communities inundated by Florence is truly something to behold, and will be the pride of Eastern and Central North Carolina for a generation.

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