State accused of dragging feet in doling out Matthew relief money

Posted October 6, 2017 7:01 p.m. EDT

— A year after Hurricane Matthew inundated southeastern North Carolina, political recriminations continue to pour in over the handling of federal relief funds.

Republican 9th District Congressman Robert Pittenger on Thursday said Gov. Roy Cooper's administration is dragging its feet in releasing $237 million in federal Housing and Urban Development funds already approved to help people repair and rebuild flooded homes.

"This is incredibly frustrating, but much more so for families in Robeson, Cumberland and Bladen (counties) who are still awaiting promised help to rebuild their homes," Pittenger said in a statement.

The state Division of Emergency Management has had close to $200 million of the HUD funds since August and hasn't filed the necessary paperwork to get the remainder of the money, he said.

Cooper, a Democrat, and state Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry on Friday disputed Pittenger's statements.

Sprayberry said North Carolina has met or beaten every deadline for each step required to draw down the federal dollars, adding that more than $100 million has already been released to counties affected by the hurricane.

"We have awarded funding to four counties – Edgecombe, Cumberland, Robeson and Wayne – as of last week," he said. "Now, they have to work hard to make sure that their plans are going to meet the requirements. So, the process is underway."

Federal housing grants require assessments, Sprayberry said, and state and federal officials are working together to finish those quickly, especially for hard-hit communities such as Princeville.

"The assessment has started, and it should be completed sometime in November," he said. "So, we're hoping the assessment goes well and that those funds will be able to be released at that time."

Cooper said the damage from Matthew amounted to about $4.8 billion, a figure that doesn't account for the toll the storm took on displaced families and businesses.

"For victims, help cannot come fast enough, but one thing I know is that Congress has to step up and do significantly more to help people," he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency this week released another $100 million in hurricane recovery aid to North Carolina after temporarily freezing the funds to ensure the agency had enough money to meet emergency needs in Texas and Florida after hurricanes Harvey and Irma, respectively.