Cooper calls for $1.5 billion Florence recovery fund

Governor estimates total Florence damage at nearly $13 billion, what Matthew and Floyd caused combined.

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Travis Fain
, WRAL statehouse reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper called Wednesday for $1.5 billion in state funding to recover from Hurricane Florence, saying "an unprecedented storm requires an unprecedented response."

Preliminary damage estimates from the storm are nearly $13 billion, Cooper said. That's about what the damage estimates were from hurricanes Matthew and Floyd combined.

Much of the figure is based on computer mapping for floodwaters and wind, not in-person inspections that are still ongoing three weeks after the storm.

The governor said he'll ask for a $750 million "down payment" from the state legislature when it comes into special session next week. Close to half the money would come from the state's rainy day fund and much of the rest from a budget surplus the state has run over the last year. The governor said the funding won't require a tax increase.

The remainder would come from the State Highway Fund to repair roads damaged in the storm and from the lottery fund to address school repair needs. More than 100 K-12 public schools remain closed due to Florence damage.

The money would help communities, schools and homeowners reeling after two so-called "500-year storms" in less than two years, and Cooper said he wants to respond with the expectation of more frequent flooding in mind.

"Rebuilding smarter and stronger is not just an idea, it's an obligation," Cooper said.

The governor's plan includes:

  • A new Office of Recovery and Resiliency to manage the recovery. It would have about 30 state employees, plus contractors. The state has had difficulty checking the boxes on federal recovery requirements in the two years following Hurricane Matthew, slowing that recovery effort.
  • About $180 million to buy homes and move people out of flood-prone areas. This program received $139 million in state funding after Hurricane Floyd, but Cooper budget director Charlie Perusse said there was significantly less federal money available for buyouts during that recovery.
  • $200 million to help cover uninsured crop and livestock losses for farmers. This is about $50 million less than the Farmer Recovery and Reinvestment Program than state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler asked lawmakers for on Monday.

Cooper's proposal includes another $75 million to expand a voluntary buyout program meant to get uncovered hog waste lagoons out of the floodplain and to upgrade lagoon technology. This funding would expand the program to the 500-year floodplain, as opposed to the 100-year floodplain. It's geared toward hog lagoons, not chicken houses, though state poultry farmers lost an estimated 4 million-plus birds during Florence.

The estimate just to collect and dispose of poultry, hogs and other livestock killed in the flooding is $20 million, according to the governor's recommendations.

Troxler told lawmakers this week that the state would need to ease its moratorium on new hog lagoons to facilitate buyouts, but Cooper said Wednesday that decision is "a little bit far down the road."

"I would not say we should do that at this point," the governor said.

The state's initial expectation is that it will receive about $2.3 billion in federal funding for Florence recovery, with plans to ask for another $3.4 billion. Another $3.3 billion in insurance and other private funding is expected to help cover damages around the state.

That leaves $3.7 billion in unmet needs out of the state's initial estimate of $12.7 billion in total damage. That total covers not just property damage, but lost wages and other impacts from businesses that were closed during and after the storm.

Cooper's plan would cover about 40 percent of that estimated unmet need.

"Obviously, we want to make North Carolina whole," Perusse said. "We understand that's very difficult to do."

Legislative leaders are reviewing the governor's recommendations. They already approved an initial $56 million in recovery funds, and they go back into session Monday to focus on longer-term recovery efforts.

"State lawmakers and fiscal staff are currently reviewing the damage assessments together in preparation for the legislature’s second disaster relief session next week," said Joseph Kyzer, spokesman for Speaker of the House Tim Moore. "They appreciate the administration’s ongoing recovery efforts and can provide more feedback in the coming days after members have time to meet and study the figures."


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