The rain is done, and the flood is long over. The rest of the country moved on months ago, but North Carolina is still feeling the effects of Hurricane Matthew. Hundreds of families remain displaced, and critical infrastructure sits damaged. Its unmet need is enormous, the governor says, and they aren’t getting the money.
In a soon-to-be-announced disaster relief allocation from the federal government, Gov. Roy Cooper expects to get just 0.7 percent of what he and North Carolina lawmakers in Congress say the state still needs to get back on its feet.
In October, Hurricane Matthew raked up the Southeast coast and battered Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. These states aren’t unfamiliar with tropical storms or the damage they inflict, but Matthew was different. The hurricane’s wind and storm surge were strong, but that wasn’t what did North Carolina in.
Unexpectedly, the storm’s track shifted slightly west and dumped a colossal amount of rain on inland parts of the state. More than 15 inches fell on areas that were already saturated from previous storms. That water rolled off the hills and into the reservoirs and rivers, which crested at record levels.
More than 2,000 people were rescued from high water in North Carolina alone. Half of the state’s 100 counties were in a state of emergency, and 52 shelters housed more than 4,300 displaced people.
North Carolina officials estimate the storm did $2.8 billion in damage, which doesn’t include $2 billion in economic losses. In the days after the storm, Congress gave North Carolina around $332 million for immediate disaster relief in addition to the assistance FEMA provided. In December, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided the state with $199 million for long-term relief and rebuilding.
Cooper says it wasn’t enough to cover the full extent of the damage. In early April, he requested an additional $929 million. But in the omnibus spending bill passed earlier this month, Congress only gave HUD $400 million.
In other words, the department that allocates long-term disaster relief has a budget that’s less than half of what Cooper says North Carolina needs to recover from Hurricane Matthew alone.
Soon HUD will calculate how much should be allocated to North Carolina. There are as many as five other states on the list that also need disaster relief, including the surrounding states that were affected by Hurricane Matthew, and Louisiana, where Baton Rouge is still struggling from its 2016 flood (which the Red Cross has said was the worst disaster since Sandy).
Cooper’s office anticipates North Carolina’s share of the funds will be in the ballpark of $6 million — less than 1 percent of Cooper’s request. This is because HUD calculates unmet needs in housing alone — it does not include infrastructure needs, small business, agriculture, etc.
Congress could give the department more money in 2017 depending on what kind of disasters strike, but once it makes this allocation, North Carolina’s only route to a significant assistance package will be through Congress directly.
On Wednesday, the Hurricane Hunters visited Raleigh-Durham International Airport as a part of a storm preparedness tour. Cooper used the opportunity to express his disappointment and noted that the $929-million request was “conservative” for the destruction Matthew inflicted.
“Matthew did an estimated $4.8 billion in damages to 50 counties in North Carolina,” Cooper said. “That’s half of our entire state.”
In a Wednesday statement, Cooper called the decision “an incredible failure by the Trump administration and Congressional leaders to turn their backs” on families trying to rebuild and recover.
Cooper says homes and small businesses are still in need of repair. Structures that flooded in Matthew need to be elevated and prevent a similar disaster in the future. North Carolina agriculture was hit particularly hard, and Cooper wants to supplement farmers for losses not covered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
It also will repair and retrofit critical infrastructure, such as storm drains and sewer lines, and reinforce them to prevent future storm damage.
Rep. David E. Price, who worked with the governor along with Sen. Thom Tillis to measure how much money the state needs to rebuild, says he share’s Cooper’s disappointment.
“Many programs included in the Governor’s request received no funding at all,” Price said in a statement to The Washington Post, “and the housing grants provided in the bill will meet only a small fraction of North Carolina’s need due to the formula used by HUD to allocate such funding.”
In a letter sent Wednesday to the president and congressional leaders, Cooper requested more money either in an immediate supplemental spending bill or the 2018 budget process.
In the meantime, he asked the leaders in Washington to visit the state and see the lingering damage for themselves.