The House Appropriations Committee has passed a more than $250-million hurricane relief bill that places a greater emphasis on resilience and disaster mitigation.
The committee took up House Bill 1023, the Storm Recovery Act of 2019, on Wednesday, Oct. 30. H.B. 1023 provides money for communities affected by the storms and for disaster recovery efforts, while also making some policy changes in how disaster relief is handled.
“This bill is in some ways a pivot from what we have done in the past, because for the first time you are seeing a large portion of the bill is dealing with resiliency and mitigation,” Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, said.
McGrady is a primary sponsor.
The Storm Recovery Act of 2019 gives the Wildlife Resources Commission more authority to remove abandoned boats owners left behind after major storms. The bill also grants flexibility in how unused disaster money is used. Agencies could transfer leftover money from one named storm to another named storm.
McGrady said lawmakers don’t want agencies to get stuck because they got money for Hurricane Michael when they really need it for Hurricane Florence.
The Program Evaluation Division made some recommendations in May on how to better manage disaster relief. H.B. 1023 takes up those recommendations.
Timing is important, McGrady said. With the session ending, McGrady said there wasn’t time to work out the details of the bill with the Senate before it was introduced. He intends to get the bill through the House before the legislature takes a break after Thursday.
The Henderson County lawmaker said the governor’s administration requested a bulk of the money included in the bill.
“What we tried to do is take what the administration was seeking and add some flexibility and pots of money that can be used,” McGrady said.
H.B. 1023 appropriates $38 million in matching funds of federal grants for hurricane relief, as well as $40 million in loans and grants for resiliency projects. The Golden LEAF Foundation would receive $20 million for local grants and hazard-mitigation grant projects.
The Division of Emergency Management would see $42.1 million for resiliency efforts. New positions would be added to the NCEM and the N.C. 211 help line.
The state Department of Transportation is in a budget crunch, but H.B. 1023 provides $36 million for department cash flow. The money goes to help the transportation department make repairs and remove debris.
Elizabeth City State University and Ocracoke School, which were damaged by Hurricane Dorian, will get money for repairs.
H.B. 1023 prohibits using the money to construct buildings in 100-year flood plains.
“We are now really focused on how do we avoid spending this money again on similar sorts of things,” McGrady said.