@NCCapitol

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Latest hurricane relief bill boosts farmers, fishermen

Posted November 28, 2018 3:06 p.m. EST
Updated November 28, 2018 7:02 p.m. EST

— State lawmakers are moving quickly to pass their third hurricane relief bill this year, containing $250 million to help farmers and fishermen wiped out by Hurricane Florence in September and Hurricane Michael in October.

Senate Bill 823 cleared the Senate unanimously Wednesday afternoon and now heads to the House.

Meanwhile, Gov. Roy Cooper submitted a request to North Carolina’s congressional delegation on Wednesday seeking an additional $6.3 billion in federal funding to help the state and communities recover from Florence.

The Senate bill allocates a large part of the nearly $400 million in recovery funds that state lawmakers set aside in October. About $69 million remains in the fund to be spent.

The measure sets aside $240 million for farmers, which "sounds like a big number," conceded Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown at a committee meeting on the bill Tuesday morning. However, he added, "if you start breaking it down for 10,000 farmers, that's about $24,000 a farmer. So, it really isn't a whole lot of money.

"Hopefully, this will keep some of these farmers in business, and I’ll be quite honest, some of them are going to go out of business," Brown, R-Onslow, told the committee.

The bill also includes $10 million for aid to commercial fishermen and shellfish farmers in devastated coastal areas. That money will go through the Department of Environmental Quality.

State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said the storms cost farmers and fishermen estimated income of about $8.3 billion this year, so the aid is just a fraction of the loss.

"This bill is the best thing the legislature can do right now to restart the economy in these rural areas that have been so heavily impacted," Troxler told lawmakers. "I look forward to working very hard to get this money out."

Troxler explained that Florence hit just as farmers were preparing to harvest their crops. He compared it to being robbed while taking your paycheck to the bank.

"There was no payday for a lot of people this fall," Troxler told WRAL News. "It’s just a bridge to get people to the next crop and help them get the financing that they need to withstand the loss they’ve taken."

The bill also contains $23.5 million for the Department of Public Instruction to help affected schools finish repairs and renovations, $5 million to Golden LEAF, a Rocky Mount-based foundation, for small-business loans, $18.5 million to DEQ for federal matches required for coastal mitigation help and $1 million to the Administrative Office of the Courts to repair damaged courthouses and replace equipment in them.

Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, added $25 million to bill from the recovery fund during the floor debate. The bulk of that would serve as a short-term loan fund to help local governments manage cash flow while they wait for Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, while $5 million would pay for housing needs of displaced residents.

More federal hurricane aid sought

Cooper's request would bring the total federal recovery aid sought to $8.8 billion, which officials said would cover more than half of the estimated $17 billion in damage caused by Florence. That aid level is consistent with what was provided after other disasters in recent years, officials said.

The request identified long-term needs and detailed immediate priorities for emergency federal funds:

  • Repairing highways and interstates
  • Building more affordable homes in safe areas across North Carolina
  • Reviving businesses that lost workers, income and stock with forgivable loans to get people back to work
  • Significant flood risk management to prevent future storm damage
  • Expanding North Carolina’s Recovery and Resiliency Office to coordinate efficient state and federal financial assistance for housing, infrastructure and recovery
  • Helping farmers whose crops were ruined and providing incentives for hog farmers to move to higher ground and convert to better technology
  • Ensuring medical help and mental health treatment get to those suffering the devastating after-effects of storm damage and uncertainty

"North Carolina has much work to do to build back stronger and smarter, and we are counting on North Carolina’s congressional delegation to help us get this done," Cooper said in a statement.

Cooper also requested legislative changes to streamline the process for administering federal disaster recovery funds so that survivors of Florence and Hurricane Matthew are treated equitably and that funding reaches affected communities as quickly as possible.

Additionally, he requested that Congress examine proposals to allow tax relief for families facing uncompensated losses and the potential for interest-free loans and tax-advantaged bonds for school districts facing repair costs from Florence.