Republican legislators on Wednesday said they plan to investigate the Cooper administration’s slow response to Hurricane Matthew relief efforts for displaced families, and also mulled taking away the governor’s power over disaster relief money.
Legislators on Wednesday created a subcommittee to investigate why North Carolina has been slower to do the same type of disaster relief work as South Carolina. They focused on $236.5 million in federal aid that has yet to be spent here. The money was housing aid for families displaced by the 2016 storm.
“We’re two years into this disaster,” said Republican Rep. Nelson Dollar of Cary, a top budget writer. “Other states have been able to address their housing issues. We have not.”
But Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said that another subcommittee will not speed things up, and called it a “sham hearing” because the state’s director of Emergency Management, Mike Sprayberry, was at the meeting but never asked to give explanations or answer questions.
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“Republican politicians decided that the way to help Matthew survivors is to create another bureaucratic committee while the governor and his administration are focused on actually helping hurricane victims,” Porter said. “More than $743 million has been spent on Matthew recovery already, and we are focused on getting more resources out to the people who are still in need.”
At the committee meeting Wednesday where legislators decided to start the new subcommittee, Republican Sen. Jerry Tillman of Moore County inquired if the legislature could take responsibility for the disaster relief money away from Cooper.
“It’s apparent the governor’s office has dropped the ball … the state’s getting a black eye over the lack of action from the governor’s office,” he said.
But Rep. John Bell, a Republican who represents parts of several Eastern North Carolina counties and was leading the meeting Wednesday, said that’s difficult to do because the money comes from so many different sources. He also pointed to some improvements that are already happening on the ground, even while other parts of the relief effort are delayed.
“The HUD funding is where we’re really lacking,” Bell said.
That refers to $236.5 million in funding from the federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is supposed to help people rebuild after losing their homes but is still untouched.
Cooper administration officials have previously told The News & Observer they’re making progress on a long list of federal requirements that have to be checked off before the money can be spent. According to a previous News & Observer article, “The process involves data collection on the ground in affected areas, putting together reports at the state level and getting it to proper agencies in the federal government, which must analyze the data and deliver the money to the state.”
And on Monday, HUD signed off on key environmental reports from the state that will allow money to finally start flowing into the affected communities, according to a report from the Goldsboro News-Argus. That federal approval, the paper wrote on Wednesday, “triggers the release of disaster grant funds, some possibly as early as September.”
The approvals are for Wayne, Cumberland and Edgecombe counties, the News-Argus reported — an area of the state that includes Fayetteville, Goldsboro, Wilson and Rocky Mount.
But state Sen. Danny Earl Britt, a Republican from Robeson County which borders South Carolina, said on Wednesday that homes on the other side of that border have been rebuilt with money from HUD already.
He and several other Republicans said North Carolina should look into what South Carolina has done. That’s one of the tasks the new subcommittee created on Wednesday could take up.
“The same requirements that were placed on North Carolina were also placed on South Carolina,” Britt said.
During the meeting on Wednesday, the top Democrat in the North Carolina House of Representatives, Rep. Darren Jackson of Kinghtdale, said that his Republican colleagues seem more concerned with political grandstanding two months before the elections than with presenting solutions.
“It seems to me if this committee is about delving into blame, we are doing a good job,” Jackson said.