Weather

FEMA diverts Matthew recovery money to Harvey, Irma victims

Posted September 15

— The Federal Emergency Management Agency has put a freeze on about $134 million owed to dozens of North Carolina counties for repairs after Hurricane Matthew.

The destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida in recent weeks has pushed recovery from Matthew 11 months ago to the back burner, said Mike Sprayberry, director of North Carolina's Division of Emergency Management.

"The federal government needs that funding right now to be focused on protecting lives down in Florida and Texas," Sprayberry said. "Basically, FEMA is spending many millions of dollars a day on these two major disasters."

FEMA sent letters this week to emergency management directors in 50 North Carolina counties informing them of the hold, which Sprayberry said is temporary. Similar letters were sent to officials in other states where a federal disaster has been declared, such as Western states after wildfires.

Most of the individual claims for Matthew recovery money have already been paid out. The money being held up would reimburse cities and counties for infrastructure repairs and upgrades.

"(It's) everything from parks and recreation to water systems to debris to emergency protective measures, roads and bridges," Sprayberry said.

A hazard mitigation program that funds FEMA buyouts of properties and helps homeowners elevate their property out of flood zones also is on hold, but he said that's not yet affecting North Carolina because the state wouldn't disburse any money under that program for another few months.

FEMA is required by law to pay for the repairs, but Sprayberry said the freeze could tie up federal recovery funds for months. A similar hold was put in place after Hurricane Sandy, and that lasted for three months, he said.

North Carolina's congressional delegation to working to free up more disaster recovery funds, he said.

"We not only want to recover from a hurricane but recover in a better way," he said.

Recovering from Hurricane Floyd in 1999 took a decade, according Johnston County Emergency Management Director Kim Robertson, so she's undaunted by FEMA's temporary hold on infrastructure funds.

"We’re not going to let this stop us one bit," Robertson said. "When they say everything’s ready, we will have our stuff right up front (for funding)."

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