I-Team: Some hurricane victims might wait years for relief money

Friday, April 26, 2019
Some still waiting for a return to normal after hurricanes
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Some still waiting for a return to normal after hurricanes in Eastern North Carolina.

SPRING LAKE, N.C. (WTVD) -- Regina Evans thought she could wait out the process. Not anymore.

"If we continue to wait, we're going to be in debt so far we won't be able to come out of it," Evans told ABC11. "We want to come home."

Evans' home, like many on Dolphin Drive, sustained heavy flood damage during Hurricane Florence. The family qualified for a FEMA grant and a loan from the Small Business Administration, but that can only go so far.

"At this present time we're paying a mortgage for the damaged property, we're paying rent to exist," she said. "We pay for the storage units, we lost clothes, cars. There's just a lot to replace."

According to Evans, the FEMA assessor encouraged her to apply for another grant through STEP, Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power. The program, a joint state and federal initiative, aims to get victims back in their homes through quick repairs to things such as sinks and bathrooms.

The problem, Evans found out, is that STEP only approves grants to homes with less than $25,000 in damage (the federal government covers the first $17,000). Her home, she was told, sustained far too much damage to make it habitable with only minor repairs.

"It's just a roller coaster."

According to data provided by the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency (NCORR), 4,256 households expressed interest in the STEP program and about half, 2,183, qualified.

On Friday, Laura Hogshead, NCORR's Chief Operating Officer, told the NC State Emergency Response Commission the state is expecting hundreds of millions of dollars to help hurricane victims who sustained the most damage and can't afford all of the repairs.

The program, Community Development Block Grants-Disaster Recovery (CDGB-DR), is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and is specifically appropriated for low- and middle-income households hit hard by severe weather.

For Hurricane Matthew, a damaging storm but still less so than Florence, the CDGB-DR grant totaled $236 million - but it's only now being disbursed to affected households.

"I get calls every day," Hogshead said. "The CDGB-DR are funds as a last resort. It's the money that comes in last."

CDGB-DR funds are also approved by Congress - which is still debating a major relief package for several storms, including Florence, Michael and Maria.

"We understand how painful it is," NC Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry told ABC11. "We're working to execute the funding when we get. We've got a plan in place and will execute swiftly."

Regina Evans, meanwhile, said she has a plan too: take initiative, ask for help and take it wherever she can.

"Shame and pride will get you where you are renting and crumbling," she said. "I'm all about being real and I'm all about coming home."