More than $130 million in federal disaster relief funds is being withheld from North Carolina amid a deluge of claims from victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, according to the director of the state’s emergency management department.
President Donald Trump signed a bill last week that committed more than $15 billion to Hurricane Harvey relief in Texas and Louisiana. The bill, which also funded the government for three months and raised the nation’s debt limit, passed the House and Senate with overwhelming support despite criticism from some conservatives.
Seven GOP representatives in North Carolina’s 13-member House delegation voted against the measure, though they had voted for a smaller, disaster relief-only bill earlier in the week.
Many counties in North Carolina are still dealing with the effects of last year’s Hurricane Matthew, which produced massive flooding and led to emergency declarations in 50 counties in the state.
The Hurricane Harvey bill passed quickly, in part, because the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s available funds were about to run out. The bill’s passage was expected to clear the way for more than $110 million to flow into North Carolina, according to Rep. Robert Pittenger, whose district in south-central North Carolina saw extensive damage.
But the bill passed before Hurricane Irma hit Florida on Sunday and Monday, leaving damage in every corner of the state.
“Following major disasters, FEMA protocol freezes assets to ensure they have enough cash on hand to meet urgent needs. Congress will provide additional funding for Irma, and long-term FEMA funding for North Carolina is assured,” said Pittenger, who voted for the bill.
FEMA sent an email to North Carolina Emergency Management to tell them of the delay. The state let the counties know with a letter.
Any North Carolina city or county that has already received an award letter from FEMA will continue to be paid on that, said Mike Sprayberry, director of the state emergency management agency. But reimbursement for other projects will be held up.
“This does not mean that these projects will not be paid for. It’s just a delay,” Sprayberry said.
Projects where reimbursement could be held up include debris removal, emergency protective services and permanent work on infrastructure such as roads, bridges, parks and water and sewage pipes.
The hold affects all states, not just North Carolina or states hit by Matthew.
Sprayberry said before this delay he expected to have all projects outside of roads and bridges obligated by Oct. 8.