North Carolina’s leaders are abandoning the victims of Hurricane Matthew

Alamance Community Park, in Robeson County, near Lumberton, NC, remained inundated with flood waters on Oct. 16, 2016. Floodwater from Hurricane Matthew came to the bottom edge of the park signs when the storm first hit. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Alamac Community Park, in Robeson County, near Lumberton, NC, remained inundated with flood waters on Oct. 16, 2016. Floodwater from Hurricane Matthew came to the bottom edge of the park signs when the storm first hit. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

If you have been following North Carolina’s response to the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew, then you know it has been a slow and, at times, disappointing process.

If not, here’s a refresher:

On Oct. 8, 2016, Hurricane Matthew made landfall on North Carolina. The resulting flooding impacted 50 counties in the Eastern part of the state, damaging more than 800,000 homes and over 300,000 businesses, displacing 3,744 residents, and causing closures in 34 school systems. In all, the storm caused $2.8 billion in damages and another $2 billion in lost economic activity.

In December 2016, three months after disaster struck, the General Assembly passed the Disaster Recovery Act of 2016 allocating $200.9 million in state dollars for initial relief efforts. The general understanding was that the state would wait for disaster funding from the federal government, re-evaluate the “unmet need,” and step in to fill any remaining gaps. Assuming the federal government would act as they have done in previous disasters and support the state with a significant relief package, Governor Cooper’s budget allocated only $115 million in state funding disaster relief.

On May 10, 2017, nearly six months later, North Carolina finally heard back from the federal government. The Trump administration announced they would provide only $6.1 million of the nearly $930 million in federal funds that the state needed and requested.

The message was crystal clear: North Carolina would have to take care of itself. Yet, despite being fully aware of the $930 million in unmet need in Eastern North Carolina, legislators in both the Senate and House responded by allocating only $150 million in each chamber’s budget.

Now that you’re caught up, you’re probably wondering, “Who will pick up the slack and fund relief in Eastern NC?”

The answer? Not your legislators.

In the final budget released from conference committee early today, the inadequate Hurricane Matthew relief is conditional and may mean it will never be made available to help the communities struggling to recover.

That’s correct: Although there is language to suggest there may be funds for relief efforts, it is contingent on the General Assembly passing a standalone bill in the last few weeks of session. A cryptic line pointing towards “pending legislation” suggest that $100 million may go towards  “Supplemental Disaster Recovery Funds,” but the bill referenced makes absolutely no mention of serving residents impacted by the storm. Nowhere in its final budget does the General Assembly discuss how they will help some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens recover from a natural disaster that happened more than eight months ago.

Despite legislators unwillingness to do their job, residents out East continue to endure hardships caused by the storm. Many have been unable to return to work, children remain displaced from their original schools, and some residents are still living in cramped hotel rooms.

Rather than drawing from the more than $1.4 billion in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, legislators are actually choosing to stash more money away. In addition to saving for a disaster while failing to fund the current one, lawmakers have included significant tax cuts that will largely benefit the highest income earners in the state and profitable corporations.

This is unacceptable. State leaders have the information and the funds available to repair and rebuild Eastern North Carolina. The only thing missing is their will to do the right thing.

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

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