Environment, News

Lawmakers expected to approve nearly $800 million in hurricane relief

House Speaker Tim Moore (L) and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R)

North Carolina state lawmakers are expected to speedily approve almost $800 million in hurricane relief this week, legislators announced over the weekend.

The news follows Gov. Roy Cooper’s call last week for the state to open up its pocketbook and spend from its $2 billion “rainy-day fund” after Hurricane Florence battered the state last month.

From WRAL’s report Monday morning:

When lawmakers gather Monday afternoon, they plan to approve nearly $800 million in Hurricane Florence relief funding, legislative leaders said over the weekend.

Gov. Roy Cooper had asked for $1.5 billion in state funding for the storm recovery, with $750 million of that upfront and approved during this week’s special legislative session.

Lawmakers noted that the administration’s needs estimates were preliminary, based largely on computer modeling of the storm damage as opposed to in-person analysis. Leadership said in a news release that they want to keep “maximum flexibility” as more information comes in, and that their initial appropriation would total $794 million.

“Some assessed needs may shift considerably over time as federal aid becomes clearer and damage assessments continue,” Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore said in a joint statement. “Education needs, for example, are particularly preliminary.”

Leadership did not release a breakdown of how the money would be spent. More details should be available when the House and Senate appropriations committees go into joint session at 4 p.m.

The initial recovery package may be completely approved by Monday night. Most of the funding will come from the state’s $2 billion “rainy day” reserve fund and will not require a tax increase.

Billions more will likely flow from the federal government and from private insurance claims tied to the storm and the subsequent flooding, which was historic in much of southeastern North Carolina. Private groups are working to help repair homes as well. Many people, though, will likely never be made whole.

House Appropriations Chairman Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, said in the weekend release that school repairs will be the top priority in the state’s package, along with cleanup, road and local infrastructure repairs and fully funding the state’s match for federal recovery dollars.

Lawmakers already approved $56 million in Florence recovery aid two weeks ago. That money was earmarked to pay teachers and other school staff whose schools were closed for an extended period and to provide initial matching funds for federal aid.

It remains to be seen how the dollars will be spent.

Cooper’s proposal considered not only the damage to homes and small businesses, but also pledged cash to reeling farmers, relocating homes in the state’s floodplains, and expanding a buyout program in order to move hog farm pits, one of multiple looming environmental concerns exacerbated by storm flooding.

There’s been no word that legislators intend to take up more divisive matters. Lawmakers were roundly criticized for their jabs at then-incoming Gov. Cooper in December 2016 as they convened to fund relief for Hurricane Matthew.

Look for updates from Policy Watch as lawmakers gather.

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