NC Budget and Tax Center

Gov. Cooper proposes bold plan for Hurricane Florence recovery

This week, Governor Cooper released a report detailing the damages the state sustained from Hurricane Florence as well as a plan and recommended budget for rebuilding efforts. The plan recommends a total state commitment of $1.5 billion.

“In September 2018, Hurricane Florence brought high winds, dangerous storm surge and record rainfall that caused historic flooding throughout North Carolina. At its peak, Hurricane Florence was a Category 4 storm as wide as the entire state with winds reaching 140 mph. The storm hovered over North Carolina for six days, inflicting even higher levels of rainfall, storm surge, and flooding than Hurricane Matthew only two years prior. This deadly storm has left a lasting impact on families and neighborhoods across our state, resulting in 40 confirmed fatalities. Property damage and power outages were widespread, cutting power to over a million people and forcing tens of thousands of families to take refuge in emergency shelters. While the impacts of Hurricane Florence were felt across the state, those who live in the southeast bore the brunt of the storm. Twenty-eight counties have been designated by FEMA for federal disaster assistance. An estimated 2.6 million people, or one in four North Carolinians, live in one of the designated counties. Preliminary impact estimates approach $13 billion in damages across the state. This is over two times the $4.8 billion physical and economic cost of Hurricane Matthew in 2016.”

Legislators will return to Raleigh in a Special Session Monday devoted to funding long-term recovery needs for Eastern North Carolina.

Check out the full report HERE

NC Budget and Tax Center

State lawmakers’ response to Hurricane Florence is an inadequate first step

In this morning’s special session, the NC House and Senate both passed the Hurricane Florence Emergency Response Act. The storm, which hit the North Carolina coast on Sept. 14, resulted in 39 deaths, power losses for 880,000 people, over 5,200 emergency rescues and evacuations, more than 1,600 road closures, and the displacement of thousands.

The bill, which is a first step, appropriates a total of $56.5 million in funding to help communities recover. In addition to funding recovery efforts, the bill extends the voter registration period in impacted counties to Oct. 15, and states that Historically Underutilized Businesses should be prioritized vendors for recovery funding.

Although we do not yet have a total dollar figure on the amount of damage caused by the storm, the $56.5 million figure is clearly less than what is actually needed based on what we do know. It also fails to create certainty for North Carolina communities that the state will be willing to invest in their rebuilding efforts. The uncertainty that lingers over the eastern part of the state makes it difficult for families and business to plan their own rebuilding efforts. That certainty, that funding will be and is available to embark on projects to rebuild, is a clear lesson from disaster efforts in North Carolina and across the country.

Hurricane Matthew, another 500-year storm which hit the eastern part of North Carolina just two years ago, caused $2.4 billion in damage and $2 billion in lost economic activity. The General Assembly’s initial disaster recovery funding bill in 2016 was for $200.9 million. And, in fits and starts, they returned to commit dollars to the effort which made for uneven planning and deployment of funds that contributed to delays in rebuilding.

Of the $56.5 million dedicated to Florence relief, $6.5 million will go directly to the Department of Public Instruction in order to compensate school lunch employees who are hourly and lost wages due to school closures. This is an excellent use for disaster recovery funding. Getting money into the hands of workers, many of whom are low wage, will ensure that local economies have the ability to bounce back and that individuals are shielded from the double burden of losing property and wages.

The remaining $50 million in appropriation, however, is not designated. State lawmakers plan to use a significant portion of the remaining dollars as a state match for any federal disaster assistance they may receive. It is a requirement to secure the federal funds and it will just supplement federal commitments not address the gaps that federal commitments often present in rebuilding work.

So what does this mean for our neighbors?

It means that although lawmakers have built up a Rainy Day Fund of $2 billion, as well as leaving $500 million in revenues last year unappropriated, they will choose to spend a tiny amount of state dollars in helping hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians who have been displaced and whose lives have been turned upside down.

It seems that rather than leading, our leaders will sit and wait for the federal government to help while their constituents sit in shelters. If lawmakers should have learned anything from Hurricane Matthew, it’s that the federal government will not do their jobs for them. Just two years ago, after waiting for six months to hear from the Trump administration regarding a $930 million disaster relief request, North Carolina was told it would only receive $6.1 million.

We cannot wait. The families who are displaced, workers who are out of work, small businesses who are losing revenue, and farmers who have lost crops cannot wait.

Rather than waiting, we must commit the dollars that we have available now to build a robust plan for a resilient eastern North Carolina: a plan that recognizes the importance of a range of immediate service needs — from temporary housing to food access to legal services — and supports families, small businesses and farms to address their losses in housing, profits and product; a plan that focuses on making sure that everyone is served regardless of who they are, what language they speak or where they live and that services are accessible to people have been displaced and have limited resources; a plan that puts people at the center of planning and decision-making to strengthen the systems that monitor our water quality and environmental contaminants, encourage affordable housing development outside of floodplains, and build the institutional infrastructure to create thriving communities with good, quality jobs and sustainable businesses.

State lawmakers have the tools, the resources and know-how to lead a recovery that is not only adequate and equitable, but builds and invests in resilient communities that are stronger than ever before.

Brian Kennedy II is a Policy Analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Hurricane Florence is exposing North Carolina’s racial and geographic inequalities

Hurricane Florence tore through the Carolinas, leaving entire cities devastated, claiming dozens of lives, and doing what will likely be billions of dollars in damage. But this hurricane has exposed much more than tree roots and the foundations of homes — it has exposed the gross and growing inequality embedded in our state.

For years, eastern North Carolina has been home to some of the state’s most impoverished towns and communities. In 2016, 19 of the 20 poorest counties in the entire state were all located in the east. In addition to poverty, eastern North Carolina is home to some of the state’s hungriest communities. In 2016, more than 300,000 people in the 18 counties declared disaster areas alone did not have enough food to eat each night.

In Robeson County, for example, one of the counties most impacted by flooding both recently with Hurricane Florence and two years ago during Hurricane Matthew, nearly 28 percent of residents and 38 percent of children live below the federal poverty line. In New Hanover County, where Hurricane Florence made landfall, more than 19,500 residents live in six neighborhoods that have poverty rates above 40 percent.

So how can the part of our state that has historically been the agricultural and manufacturing engine of our economy be suffering from both poverty and hunger today? Not by circumstance, but by policy choices, historic and present,… Click To Tweet

As a result of generations of redlining, racial housing covenants, and other forms of housing discrimination, many Black and brown communities in the east are often situated in lower-lying geographies and flood plains, making them especially susceptible to damage from powerful storms. In addition to being vulnerable to environmental disasters, these communities have yet to recover from the last economic downturn a decade ago. While the state is returning to pre-recession economic measures, much of eastern N.C. still lags behind.

Since the 2007 Great Recession, every racial and ethnic group in the state has returned to pre-recession levels of poverty except Latinx and Native communities, which make up a disproportionate number of residents in these affected counties. In fact, more than 38 percent of residents in Robeson are Native families while more than 21 percent of families in Duplin, another county hit hard by the storm, are Latinx. Poverty levels among North Carolinians of color across the state remain well above 20 percent, while the poverty rate for white North Carolinians has dropped to 10 percent.

Rather than enacting policies to strengthen our communities, policy makers have chosen to ignore them. Failing to expand health insurance, refusing to raise the minimum wage, attacking critical support programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit and SNAP (formally known as food stamps) are all ways our leaders have neglected North Carolinians who need help the most. Instead, policy makers should ensure that recovery efforts and resources are applied in ways that are equitable, mitigate past inequalities, and focus on building communities that have the ability to be resilient. Proactively investing in hazard medication infrastructure, committing to common-sense environmental protection policies such as regulating hog waste and coal ash disposal, and investing in public education, jobs training, and wage increases for low-wage workers are critical next steps.

The linkage between race, poverty, and policy choices is clear. Our leaders have elected to neglect disenfranchised and oppressed communities. They now have the opportunity to do the right thing and commit to building a strong, and inclusive North Carolina.

Brian Kennedy II is a Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

NC Budget and Tax Center

US Senate Farm Bill threatened with harmful amendments

Last week, the US House narrowly passed their harmful version of the Farm Bill. The bill originally failed to pass the House because of its many harmful provisions that would have taken SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formally known as Food Stamps) away from North Carolinians struggling with food insecurity.  On this second attempt, the bill passed by only a few votes with Democrats and moderate Republicans voting against it.

This week, the US Senate is preparing to take a vote on their version. While the US House proposal will hurt our state, the US Senate version will do the opposite. Not only does the Senate bill fully fund SNAP, it invests in Employment and Training programs that help SNAP recipients find meaningful work.

Although much better, the Senate version is not free and clear of potentially harmful provisions.

Several potential amendments are already beginning to emerge from the Senate. One potential amendment would prevent states from waiving work requirements for hungry adults in counties where their are no jobs available. In 2016, the NC General Assemble passed legislation banning the state from applying for this very waiver, taking food assistance away from as many at 100,000 North Carolinian.

Another potential amendment would require SNAP participants to provide identification when purchasing food. This change would place heavy burdens on retailers and SNAP participants as well as adding inefficiency to an otherwise extremely efficient program. With this provision, teenagers would not be able to shop for their families, relatives and neighbors would not be able to shop for home-bound elderly and disabled family members, and those who don’t have a government issue ID would be barred from using their own benefits.

Last year, North Carolina was the 10th hungriest state in the nation, with more than 600,000 households struggling to place food on the table each night. SNAP is a critical tool in helping to address that need. In the same year, more than 1.3 million North Carolinians participated in SNAP.

Take a look below to see how else the House and Senate versions differ:

NC Budget and Tax Center

U.S. House leadership may force another vote on harmful Farm Bill

This week, it is highly likely that the US House will take a second look at their harmful version of the Farm Bill. The bill originally failed to pass the House because of its many harmful provisions that would have taken SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formally known as Food Stamps) away from North Carolinians struggling with food insecurity.

Last year, North Carolina was the 10th hungriest state in the nation, with more than 600,000 households struggling to place food on the table each night. SNAP is a critical tool in helping to address that need. In the same year, more than 1.3 million North Carolinians participated in SNAP.

While the US House proposal will hurt our state, the US Senate version will do the opposite. Not only does the Senate bill fully fund SNAP, it invests in Employment and Training programs that help SNAP recipients find meaningful work.

Take a look below to see how else the House and Senate versions differ:

Brian Kennedy II is a Public Policy Fellow for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.