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Hurricane Floyd Relief Bill Passes In House, Awaits Approval From Senate

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RALEIGH — Hurricane Floyd victims may learn today how much help they are getting from the state. Late Wednesday, the House approved Gov. Hunt's Hurricane Floyd Recovery Act of 1999, and state senators say they hope to get it passed Thursday.

Marc Basnight, President Pro Tem of the North Carolina Senate, hopes to get the act passed by noon.

"We will come back in the morning and give it the proper deliberation and vote on it," Basnight said.

State lawmakers came to Raleigh for a special session Wednesday morning to discuss Governor Hunt's proposed $830 million flood-relief package.

Twelve hours later, the House voted in the Hurricane Floyd Recovery Act of 1999.

"We have money going to agriculture, and we have money going to protect our environment," Rep. David Redwine said. "We have money going to help local governments with some of the taxes they are going to lose."

A trailer was parked outside the legislature building to remind lawmakers of the reason for the special session: thousands of residents in eastern North Carolina are living in transition, without homes, jobs or businesses.

In spite of early grandstanding, and standing around, legislators hope to get the Hurricane Floyd Recovery Act of 1999 passed in both chambers of the legislature in just a few days.

"At $60,000 dollars a day, we can't afford to be here," said Rep. Mitchell Setzer. "That money can be devoted to the process, not to keeping the legislators here (in Raleigh)."

The morning started in the state house with the majority of the details discussed in a packed committee meeting.

"Some of us are concerned that all the rental units down east have been washed away, and that we can give these people money, but if they don't have any apartments, etcetera, it's to no avail," said Rep. Gordon Allen.

The bill calls for funding to come from unspent money, savings, and redirected spending, because few are willing to raise taxes.

Rep. Mickey Michaux hopes to return the money shifted away from other needy groups soon.

"We have many people who are hurting," Michaux said. "Hopefully, when we come back in May, we will be able to fill in some of the gaps. I doubt that if we are going to be able to do it all."

Some fear the plan would require cuts in key social programs. "Children's mental health services are about to lose $27 million," says lobbyist Paula Wolf. "These are already very underfunded programs."

Some people in eastern North Carolina wants legislators to slow down and evaluate the plan more. Rev. Thomas Walker of Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Rocky Mount says some of Floyd's funds are being diverted for people who really need it.

"For our politicians to come here and propose legislation that is being discussed today really shows how weak our politicians are," Walker said.

The state money would be in addition to the $2.2 billion in federal money expected to come to flood victims. Governor Hunt plans to head to Washington in January to lobby for another billion dollars.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has extended the deadline to apply for federal aid. The agency had planned to stop taking applications Tuesday night, but instead extended the deadline to January 18. You can apply for help by calling FEMA at(800) 462-9029.

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Len Besthoff, Reporter
Gil Hollingsworth, Photographer
Julie Moos, Web Editor

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