SOUTHEASTERN, N.C. — Congressman David Rouzer recently told a room of elected officials in Leland the state had been awarded $1.14 billion in federal grant funds to help those affected by Hurricane Florence. But, the state, through its emergency management department, has still allocated just one percent of a similar round of funding for Hurricane Matthew two years ago.
How will the state handle this additional – and sizeable – installment of money, when it’s only allocated a fraction of the $236 million it was granted in 2016?
Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), awarded by Congress and managed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), are designed to be the last stop for low-to-moderate income people who have suffered damages from a disaster.
After Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina in Oct. 2016, HUD granted the state nearly $200 million two months later. Then, HUD granted the state additional funds in May and August last year, bringing the total to $236 million.
In May eight Republican legislators — including Rouzer — sent Governor Roy Cooper a letter condemning the state’s rate of spending, citing any further delay could interfere with future disaster aid requests. Cooper is the head of N.C. Emergency Management, the department responsible for allocating funds to those in need.
Compared to other grantees that received HUD funds for other 2016 disasters, North Carolina is behind.
“It’s not unreasonable to compare grantees that suffered a disaster at the same time, so that’s a constant,” Brian Sullivan, a spokesperson for HUD, said.
All disaster funding was allocated at the same time, according to Sullivan.
The variable? A grantee’s submission of an action plan, which Sullivan said HUD typically reviews and approves quickly.
The state submitted its action plan, a federal requirement, in April 2017. Once this plan is approved, Sullivan said there are no barriers to prevent the state from spending.
Approximately 17 months after the state’s green light to spend, only 1 percent, about $3.2 million, of its total grant amount has been released. Of the grants, including states and counties given similar funds for 2016 disasters, North Carolina ranks 10th out of 13.
“It’s up to them to begin to take their plan off the drawing board,” Sullivan said.
CDBG-DR spending for 2016 disasters by grantee
|Grant award||Balance||Amount spent||%|
|San Marcos, TX||$33,794,000||$31,838,011||$1,955,989||5.7|
|Richland County, SC||$30,770,000||$27,134,949||$3,635,051||11|
|Lexington County, SC||$21,370,000||$16,435,927||$4,934,073||23|
Source: HUD’s Monthly CDBG-DR Grant Financial Report, released Oct. 1, 2018.
Compared to its southern neighbor, which was given a roughly similar HUD funding package of $221 million, North Carolina is designated as a “slow spender.” South Carolina has spent $83 million of its disaster recovery funds, about 37 percent of its total grant amount.
“Note that just down the road a bit, they’re a little further along in their expenditures … Everybody appreciates that disaster recovery happens quickly, but it also has to happen thoughtfully,” Sullivan said when asked why a grantee would be behind. “Still, we publish those financial expenditures for a reason.”
Ready for Florence funds
According to Gregory Thomas, spokesperson for North Carolina Emergency Management, the state has spent its one percent — $3.2 million — on 85 families.
“Prior to Hurricane Matthew, North Carolina had not been awarded a CDBG-DR grant since
2003,” Thomas wrote in an email.
Twelve times as much as all of the state’s previous recovery awards combined, $236 million was a large allocation for the state to handle. Five of the 13 grants are considered “on pace” in places where grantees have received multiple large awards before, Thomas said.
Though it’s classified as a “slow spender,” North Carolina’s spending rate of spending is “normal,” Thomas said. To administer funds, the state has established a new apparatus, ReBuild NC, to handle the large award.
“CDBG-DR is a cumbersome program to run with lots of red tape,” he said.
With $1.14 billion now on the way, Thomas said the establishment of a Hurricane Matthew recovery team will help accelerate the state’s Hurricane Florence response.
“North Carolina has built up expertise to manage this grant that will be useful for managing awards for Florence recovery,” he said.
When asked specifically how much more quickly North Carolina will spend its Hurricane Florence funds, Thomas said the state is hoping for federal flexibility.
“How much more quickly is difficult to predict,” The said. “Long-term disaster recovery is never quick enough to meet the need, but the state is working closely with federal partners to expedite the recovery and get important flexibility on the Florence award that will help it get to people faster.”
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