'Funds of last resort' finally coming soon to Hurricane Florence victims

Friday, March 6, 2020
Long-awaited relief coming for Florence victims
Long-awaited federal relief may finally be coming for Florence victims.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The long-awaited federal disaster relief grants worth hundreds of millions of dollars are one step closer to finally being distributed to North Carolina victims of Hurricane Florence.

North Carolina's Office of Recovery and Resilience has completed its Draft Action Plan to spend $542.6 million in Community Development Block Grants-Disaster Relief (CDBG-DR) from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development )HUD). The public now has until March 8th to review the plan and submit comments before state officials pass on the Action Plan for HUD's approval.

Once that happens, HUD could transfer the money within 45 days.

"It took HUD 500 days from landfall of Florence until they published the federal register notice, so that is an inordinate amount of time to go by after a disaster before the state could submit an action plan," Laura Hogshead, NCORR's Chief Operating Officer told ABC11. "It means that we couldn't open up applications, we couldn't tell what the rules were going to be on these funds so we couldn't apply for these funds."

The 124-page plan is based on several HUD guidelines and includes the following provisions, among others:

  • 80 percent must be allocated to "most impacted and distressed areas"
  • 70 percent must support lower income and middle income households and individuals
  • 60 percent of funds for repairs for severely damaged homes
  • 20 percent of funds for new rental properties and affordable housing choices
  • 6 percent of funds to buy out flood-ravaged properties

According to Hogshead, feedback from the public could adjust some of those percentages. They could also pitch new ideas on improving readiness for the next storm.

"For example, one of the new programs we're rolling out is a construction trades training program and that's a direct result of what we've heard from local communities," Hogshead said. "They're going out and they're looking for contractors and there just aren't enough specialized trade contractors to do the HVAC and the plumbing, so we anticipate we'll hear some of that and we've already tried to build that in."

Hurricane Florence in total inflicted approximately $17 billion worth of damage - about two thirds of North Carolina's state budget for the last fiscal year.

Florence made landfall on North Carolina on Sept. 16, 2018, and an earlier ABC11 I-Team analysis at the one-year anniversary found roughly $7 billion either distributed, approved or obligated, and an additional pot of up to $1 billion on hold.

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That included the CDBG-DR funds which Hogshead has long described as "funds of last resort" - money that comes in after all other avenues have been exhausted, including FEMA and the Small Business Administration.

"What we can tell about the formula is that they take FEMA registrations, so folks who had more than $8,000 worth of damage that they claimed in their FEMA registration, and is not likely to recover on their own. That would be the space where CDGB-DR would be able to come in."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved $132.6 million in individual and household grants for 34,691 homeowners and renters. All of the funds have been distributed. FEMA has also approved $303,107,597.80 in Public Assistance Grants which reimburse state agencies, local governments and eligible non-profits. NC Emergency Management officials expect that number to potentially double during the next year or two as cities, counties and the state file more applications.

The U.S. Small Business Administration, meanwhile, approved disaster loans totaling more than $405.4 million for 10,051 applicants.

Still, even if victims had taken advantage of that money, Hogshead said when registration begins for CDBG-DR, everyone should apply.

"We've gotten a lot of folks saying this happened twice to me in 23 months," she added, referring as well to Hurricane Matthew in 2016. "We want as much as possible North Carolinians to be helping North Carolinians recover."

Public comments can be submitted by email to publiccomments@rebuild.nc.gov or by U.S. Postal Service mail to: ReBuild NC, Attn: Florence Action Plan, P.O. Box 110465, Durham, NC, 27709.

Public comments on the draft plan must be submitted by 5 p.m. March 8, 2020.