News: Quick Takes

Legislators hammer Cooper official over slow pace of Matthew relief

Debris from Hurricane Matthew (Wiki Commons photograph)
Debris from Hurricane Matthew (Wiki Commons photograph)

Nick Burk, assistant director of the N.C. Emergency Management Division’s Resiliency Section, faced a barrage of questions from representatives frustrated over the slow rollout of disaster relief for Hurricane Matthew.

The representative of Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration presented at the Monday, April 16, meeting of the House Select Committee on Disaster Relief. Burk updated recovery efforts roughly 18 months after the devastating hurricane hit the southeastern part of the state.

NCEM Director Michael Sprayberry was supposed to give the presentation, but due to a medical matter, Burk was sent in his place. Burk informed lawmakers he had submitted a letter of resignation but would not explain why.

Committee members seemed flummoxed by the delays and the lack of information.

“[The Cooper] administration has sent us someone today who’s not going to carry the ball,” said Rep. Brenden Jones, R-Columbus.

Lawmakers wanted to know why counties haven’t seen any funding. They wanted a definite timeline for delivery of disaster payments and didn’t get it.

The state applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for around $100 million to buy out, elevate, or rebuild about 800 properties damaged by Matthew, Burk said. Property owners are awaiting FEMA award letters, but he said the awards may start arriving in late spring and then continue throughout summer and fall.

The state also was awarded $237.5 million in recovery funds from the federal government. But none of the money so far has been distributed through the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program.

“Who should I tell my constituents [is] at fault for not releasing this money sooner?” asked Jones.

Burk refused to single out anyone, saying instead the administration took a team approach. The Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program is a partnership between the governor’s office, the N.C. Department of Commerce, and NCEM.

Burk said recovery is a long and complicated process. Those seeking grants must complete eight steps to get Community Development Block Grant funds; 1,500 have applied for them. Only 500 applicants have made it through step one and are somewhere between steps two and four.

Burk also said NCEM hasn’t completed mandatory environmental impact assessments for counties to receive the grants. Meanwhile, families living in FEMA trailers are facing eviction and have no permanent housing awaiting.

“You have left these people in limbo for 18 months now with no answers,” said committee Chairman Rep. John Bell, R-Wayne.

Burk said the agencies are working as hard as they can to ensure eligibility for the grant program. The first reimbursements for the Community Development Block Grants should come by May 1, and the first repairs around June 30.

Rep. Charles Graham, D-Robeson, asked whether section director Sprayberry was sitting on any relief funds.

“Not to my knowledge,” Burk replied.

“Republicans and Democrats are being left with no answers,” Bell said. “There is frustration building.”