Tillis Offers Solutions To Expedite Distribution of Hurricane Matthew Funds | Beaufort County Now

Yesterday, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) joined leaders at the N.C. General Assembly to discuss the state administration’s slow pace of federal assistance to the victims of Hurricane Matthew senator, thom tillis, hurricane matthew, assistance funds, august 30, 2019
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Tillis Offers Solutions To Expedite Distribution of Hurricane Matthew Funds

Press Release:

    WASHINGTON, D.C.     Yesterday, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) joined leaders at the N.C. General Assembly, including Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, Speaker Tim Moore, State Senators Harry Brown and Danny Britt, and the Co-Chairs of the House Select Committee on Disaster Relief John Bell and Brenden Jones to discuss the state administration's slow pace of federal assistance to the victims of Hurricane Matthew and announce he is introducing legislation that would expedite the assistance to local communities in North Carolina.
   

    Tillis calls for local governments to be able to take control of disaster money

    Citing North Carolina's slow-spender status for Hurricane Matthew disaster relief money, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis announced his intention Wednesday to propose legislation that would allow local governments to assume control of funds if state agencies fail to hit spending benchmarks after 18 months.

    Flanked by Republican state legislators including House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger during a press conference at the N.C. State Capitol, Tillis said, "We know we need funding for recovery, we need funding for resiliency, but I will tell you, ladies and gentlemen, it hurts our case when we're designated as a slow spender. It hurts our case when other states that absorb very similar damage seem to be doing much, much better."

    Tillis' remarks were focused on Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds, a U.S. Office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) stream meant to be the final pot of money used to recover from a disaster. The so-called CDBG-DR money can be used to pay for lingering unmet needs and boost mitigation efforts.

    Of 104 active CDBG-DR grants, 65 - including North Carolina's $236.5 million in Matthew funds - are designated by HUD as slow spenders.

    That status has been the subject of much concern among members of the N.C. General Assembly, which has appointed a disaster relief oversight committee to investigate the funds' expenditures.

    A press release from Tillis' office said the Ensuring Disaster Recovery for Local Communities Act would give the N.C. Office of Recovery and Resiliency (NCORR) and other programs that oversee CDBG-DR funds 18 months to meet benchmarks before counties and municipalities could ask to take control of the money. The local government would then have the ability to take however much money HUD determined to be its unmet need and implement the action plan already developed by the state agency.

    Tillis pointed to a report from the General Assembly's Program Evaluation Division in justifying the measure, including a portion where counties told evaluators they could better administer the CDBG-DR program than state Emergency Management officials.

    "What we're trying to do is bypass in many instances any sort of federal bureaucracy that we don't need to and to stand up capabilities within HUD to help the local governments administer their programs," said Tillis.

    NC lawmakers back changes to distribute hurricane funds

    Still unsatisfied with the state's distribution of long-term federal housing funds after Hurricane Matthew, North Carolina Republicans led by U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis are backing a proposal geared toward accelerating recovery spending for future storms.

    Tillis said Wednesday that he would introduce federal legislation to attempt to speed up federal assistance to families and communities struggling to rebound from hurricanes. He and state legislators underscored those harmed by Matthew, which came ashore nearly three years ago.

    At a news conference, Tillis and state legislators told stories of residents still waiting for housing repair money so they can move back into their homes. Some of the same people, Tillis said, suffered more damage after Hurricane Florence in 2018.

    "They've got to be asking the question, 'Why isn't that money flowing sooner?' That's the question we're asking," Tillis said at a Legislative Building news conference. "There may be a legitimate answer for a portion of it, but it's hard to believe that it would be for all of it."

    In 2017, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded $237 million to the state in the form of a community block grant designed as a last resort to reimburse or pay individuals, governments and builders for permanent housing and infrastructure recovery. A little more than 8% of these funds - separate from hundreds of millions of recovery dollars handed out soon after the storm for immediate needs - actually has been drawn down so far for projects, according to numbers from the state office managing the award.

    The bill, which Tillis said he would file next month, would set "tangible spending goals" for agencies in states that manage the grants. And cities and counties could ask HUD to send federal assistance directly to them if a state is designated a "slow spender" for 18 months.

    "In many instances, we have the expertise or the nature of the needs are such that we can simply streamline the process down to the local governments," Tillis said. The legislation also would ask the U.S. Government Accountability Office to review property buyout programs administered by the Federal Emergency Management and offer suggested improvements. In these programs, residents are moved to higher ground outside of flood plains.

    In a report released in May, the legislature's government watchdog agency blamed administrative mistakes and a lack of expertise for the block grant distribution delays. HUD has designated North Carolina a "slow spender" of the grant. The federal government this month just approved the rules for the state on how to spend another $168 million in Matthew-related block grant money.

    The watchdog agency's report said some local government employees indicated counties could have implemented the disaster recovery block grant themselves.

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    U.S. Senate bill would get federal disaster aid to counties and communities more quickly

    North Carolina's junior U.S. Senator has announced a bill to address what he says is the "unacceptably slow distribution of federal assistance" to those impacted by natural disasters, prompted by those still struggling following Hurricane Matthew.

    Senator Thom Tillis says the Ensuring Disaster Recovery For Local Communities Act is intended to prompt the federal government to take concrete steps to empower local communities and streamline the process for future allocations after natural disasters.

    "Too many North Carolinians are hurting because of the state administration's unacceptably slow pace of allocating federal Hurricane Matthew recovery resources to local communities. Long-term efforts to help North Carolinians rebuild and get their lives back on track cannot continue to be delayed as the result of inaction," said Senator Tillis. "That's why I'm introducing legislation that will bypass the existing state roadblock in order to get assistance to families, small businesses, and local communities sooner."

    The legislation is based on findings from a report from earlier this year, which outlined administrative missteps and lack of expertise which has led to major delays in spending for Hurricane Matthew recovery. The report noted that the state scrapped its original plan to rely heavily on counties and instead opted for a more state-centric plan.

    In explaining the main causes for the slow pace of administering the funding, the report notes that "several counties contend they could have implemented CDBG-DR themselves, particularly as they felt they had more knowledge of CDBG than DPS."

    To help make sure North Carolina families and their communities get the federal assistance they were promised in a timely manner, Tillis says The Ensuring Disaster Recovery For Local Communities Act sets tangible spending goals and allows cities and counties to ask HUD to send the money directly to them when the state fails to distribute those funds after an 18-month period.

    Additionally, Tillis' legislation directs the Government Accountability Office to review of property acquisition or "buyout" programs administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and make recommendations on how to streamline the process and get the money to storm survivors more quickly.

    Despite repeated promises made by the state administration over the last two years to deliver disaster funds to communities devastated by Hurricane Matthew, the vast majority of the assistance has yet to reach them. As of this month, Tillis says the state administration has only allocated 7% of its funds for those recovery efforts and, as a result, North Carolina has been consistently designated as a "slow spender" by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

    To ensure federal assistance for Hurricane Matthew and all future disaster assistance flows to North Carolina victims and communities faster, Senator Tillis says the legislation will implement the following reforms:

  • Directs the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to set spending goal thresholds for state grantees to hit on six months intervals, creating tangible spending metrics for the public and impacted storm survivors to hold grantees accountable.
  • Ensures local communities have access to federal disaster assistance by allowing them to request to take over funds as a subgrantee when a state grantee fails to spend funds in a timely manner after an 18-month span as prescribed by HUD.
  • Local communities can adopt the state grantee's HUD-approved Action Plan to further expedite relief. For communities that do not yet have a capacity to administer CDBG funds, HUD would provide each community with technical assistance, including a HUD detailee, to provide training and ensure those communities have the capacity to administer the funds.

    Because Senator Tillis' legislation is retroactive, it would immediately grant HUD the authority to distribute the CDBG-DR funding to local communities in North Carolina that have yet to receive their assistance.

    Tillis will formally introduce The Ensuring Disaster Assistance For Local Communities Act as soon as the Senate is back in session early next month.

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    Tillis, Republicans, blast slow hurricane recovery, promise bill, hearings

    Local governments would deal directly with the federal government on multi-million-dollar disaster recovery programs under a bill U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis promised Wednesday, side-stepping the state if it falls behind on spending goals.

    Tillis, R-NC, also said his bill will seek out inefficiencies on the federal side of a lengthy approval process, saying he wants to "eliminate every hurdle that we possibly can."

    But most of Tillis' ire over North Carolina's slow recovery spending, and that of statehouse Republicans with him at Wednesday's press conference, was focused on Gov. Roy Cooper's Administration, and General Assembly leaders said they would restart legislative hearings into the state's recovery efforts.

    "We feel abandoned," said state Rep. Brenden Jones, R-Columbus. "Is it incompetence? Is it just not a willingness to help us? I don't know."

    ...Tillis said his "Ensuring Disaster Recovery for Local Communities Act" will lay task the U.S. Government Accountability Office with finding ways to expedite federal disaster programs. It would also set "tangible spending goals" for the states and let cities and counties ask HUD to send the money directly to them if the state fails to hit those goals for18 months.

    If they don't have the capacity to administer the program, HUD would assign someone with expertise to help, Tillis' office said. The bill would be retroactive, potentially allowing counties and cities to take over current state recovery programs in North Carolina.

    Tillis said the bill isn't complete yet, and he promised other details in the coming weeks. He said the proposal wouldn't necessarily cut the state out of this program, but give local governments more options.

    "We think that with a better link to the local governments we can knock down some of those barriers," he said.

    Tillis' office said the bill is based in part on a legislative review that found spending problems with the Cooper Administration's disaster grant program.

    Tillis Proposes Bypassing States For Disaster Aid

    Sen. Thom Tillis on Wednesday said North Carolina's slow use of federal hurricane relief funding has left him with little leverage in Washington.

    The Department of Housing and Urban Development classifies North Carolina as a slow spender when it comes to disaster relief. To date, HUD data shows the state has spent about 7% of the more than $236 million in block grants it was awarded to help survivors of Hurricane Matthew rebuild. No money has yet been approved for survivors of Hurricane Florence. For comparison, South Carolina has received more than $221 million and has spent about 66%.

    Tillis, R-North Carolina, said it's hard for him to ask for more aid for North Carolina with so much already on the table. He said he will file legislation to allow cities and counties to ask for direct access to federal grant money if the state doesn't disburse federal aid in a timely manner.

    "What we're trying to do is bypass, in many instances, any sort of federal bureaucracy that we don't need to and stand up capabilities in HUD to administer the programs," he said.

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    Republicans call for quicker disbursement of hurricane funds

    At a press conference on Wednesday in Raleigh, Republicans criticized the Cooper Administration, saying it hasn't allocated disaster relief funds fast enough in some Eastern Carolina communities affected by Hurricanes Matthew and Florence.

    Republican U.S. Senator Thom Tillis said so far only 7% of the $236 million in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds have been allocated.

    Tillis says, "If you're a storm victim, if you're someone who was hit by Matthew, were promised a buyout, didn't get the buyout, rebuilt your home and had it destroyed in Florence, they've got to be asking the question, why isn't that money flowing sooner?"

    Republicans plan to introduce a new bill, the Ensuring Disaster Recovery for Local Communities Act, after Labor Day, to bypass state roadblocks and allocate money to those recovering more quickly.

    TILLIS ANNOUNCES BILL TO SPEED UP HURRICANE MATTHEW ASSISTANCE

    Senator Thom Tillis is addressing the problem of slow distribution of federal assistance following natural disasters. Today he announced he would be introducing a bill in the U.S. Senate to help with it.

    The bill is called the Ensuring Disaster Recovery for Local Communities Act.

    It would allow cities and counties to request housing and urban development to allocate the federal assistance directly to them when the state fails to distribute those funds in an 18-month period.

    Additionally, it would assist North Carolina families waiting to to receive "buyout" assistance.

    To ensure federal assistance for Hurricane Matthew and all future disaster assistance goes to North Carolina communities faster, the legislation will do the following:

  • Directs the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to set spending goal thresholds for state grantees to hit on six months intervals, creating tangible spending metrics for the public and impacted storm survivors to hold grantees accountable.
  • Ensures local communities have access to federal disaster assistance by allowing them to request to take over funds as a subgrantee when a state grantee fails to spend funds in a timely manner after an 18-month span as prescribed by HUD.
  • Local communities can adopt the state grantee's HUD-approved Action Plan to further expedite relief. For communities that do not yet have a capacity to administer funds, HUD would provide each community with technical assistance.



  • Contact: Daniel Keylin
  •     daniel_keylin@tillis.senate.gov


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