A North Carolina government watchdog agency says administrative mistakes and a lack of expertise caused delays in the state’s distribution of certain federal long-term recovery funds following Hurricane Matthew.
The report released Monday by the non-partisan Program Evaluation Division also found $3.7 million in unnecessary state spending.
The state received a federal block grant of $199 million in December 2016, which was later increased to $237 million. But as of December 2018, over two years after Matthew made landfall, only 1 percent of it had been spent. South Carolina spent 22 percent of a similar award during the same time period.
The report says North Carolina was inexperienced with this type of grant.
In response, state recovery leaders acknowledged their inexperience led to a delay but disagreed with some of the report’s conclusions.
“But, it was not misspent. It was spent on hurricane survivors,” Laura Hogshead, of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, told state legislators.
The report focuses primarily on Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds. The state is still taking applications until May 31 from single-family homeowners impacted by Hurricane Matthew to utilize that funding, more than two years after the storm hit.
“It takes us so long to help folks that are in immediate need. It’s a crying shame,” said Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union).
In an email, Ford Porter, a spokesman for Gov. Roy Cooper, wrote, “As this study confirms, state funds were used to help families and communities in eastern North Carolina begin to recover from storm damage and it is simply wrong to suggest that this assistance was ‘unnecessary.’ The administration has taken a number of steps to streamline the recovery process, and many of the issues raised in this study have already been addressed. We will continue to work to provide timely assistance for families in need while also bringing more long-term federal aid to our state.”
Hogshead noted the CDBG-DR funding is meant to be used after other potential funding sources have been exhausted, such as insurance. The state also allocated funding soon after Hurricane Matthew, which was available to survivors of the storm, she said.
Mike Sprayberry, director of emergency management for North Carolina, pointed to the new Office of Recovery and Resiliency, which formed after Hurricane Florence devastated parts of the state last year.
“Statistically, we are going to have more severe weather events. We’ve got to be ready for it. We’ve got to have that good common sense and have people that understand these complex recovery programs. It’ll really pay off,” Sprayberry said.
The authors of the new oversight report noted the positions in that office are on a temporary basis. Because of that, the state could hire and then lose people who are knowledgeable about funding programs, potentially setting the state up to face a repeat of the issues that emerged following Hurricane Matthew.
Sprayberry agreed that needs to be addressed. Lawmakers are discussing legislation that could include permanent positions for that office.