NC makes first Hurricane Matthew housing award after WBTV investigation

Hurricane recovery fund spending

LUMBERTON, NC (WBTV) - North Carolina has made the first award from a $236 million federal gr ant meant to help low-income families whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, Governor Roy Cooper's office announced last week.

The announcement came weeks after a WBTV investigation found the state had yet to spend any of the gr ant, more than eight months after the state received the money.

Specifically, the gr ant is known as a Community Development Block gr ant for Disaster Recovery, or CDBG-DR, and is awarded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This is the first time North Carolina has received a CDBG-DR gr ant.

South Carolina also received a CDBG-DR gr ant to help recover from Hurricane Matthew. The South Carolina Office of Disaster Recovery announced last week that it had put 70 families back in homes damaged by Hurricane Matthew.

In announcing its first award of CDBG-DR gr ant money, Cooper's office pushed back on a string of reports following WBTV's investigation questioning the slow pace of recovery from Hurricane Matthew.

"Carolina has done a lot of work to help affected communities recover from Hurricane Matthew and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent towards that goal," Sadie Weiner, a spokeswoman for Cooper, wrote in a memo to reporters. "But there is still a lot of work to be done. Ensuring that CDBG-DR funds are distributed to those who qualify and need the help is at the top of that to-do list."

The CDBG-DR gr ant award in North Carolina last week comes despite the fact that the state has yet to receive approval from HUD on several required environmental assessments that must be made before the gr ant can be administered.

In response to a follow-up inquiry from WBTV, Weiner confirmed the award announced last week - which was a reimbursement to a family that had already made repairs to their home - was a one-time reimbursement that received a waiver to be handed out without the required environmental assessments completed.

Weiner's memo also sought to push blame on the North Carolina General Assembly, controlled by Republicans, for requiring CDBG-DR funding to be administered by the North Carolina Emergency Management office.

"Just two months after the storm hit, the legislature's Disaster Recovery Act that then-Governor Pat McCrory signed moved the CDBG-DR program from the Commerce Department to Emergency Management," Weiner said.

"Emergency Management has worked steadfastly to build up its program to distribute this money once individuals are approved, but it is not a function they have been responsible for in the past," she continued.

Document: Read the October 2016 report touting NCEM's ability to administer CDBG-DR

But a report obtained by WBTV, which was submitted by the North Carolina Department of Commerce to HUD in October 2016, before the general assembly's disaster recovery bill, identified NCEM as the agency that would administer the CDBG-DR funds and outlined why the emergency management office was best suited to do so.

"NCEM's Risk Management section has a significant capacity in contracting for services, including data collection and community-based project management. NCEM's Recovery Section brings years of experience in working with local units of government (Subgr antees) in dispersing and reimbursing funds for Stafford Act programs according to federally-compliant guidelines, including the four disasters eligible for the NDRC competition," the October 2016 submission said.

"The NC Department of Commerce brings significant capacity managing CDBG funds and fostering capacity building for local governments statewide," the report continued. "Together, NCEM and the Department of Commerce have the capability to quickly launch a compliant and effective model building either on local units of government or a contractor-based model."

When WBTV asked Weiner, Cooper's spokeswoman, about the submission touting NCEM's ability to administer CDBG-DR funds and whether that contradicted the claim in her memo that the agency wasn't situated to do so when designated by the NCGA, she could not provide a response.

"On the document, without knowing more about the genesis of the document I'm not sure I can offer much clarity. As I said in the memo, it is not a function they have been responsible for in the past but they have worked steadfastly to build up its program," Weiner said.

PREVIOUS: Lawmakers have a lot of questions, get few answers about hurricane recovery

A committee of the North Carolina House of Representatives will hold a hearing on Monday morning to hear from NCEM Director Mike Sprayberry, where he is expected to answer questions about the slow pace of hurricane recovery.

The meeting comes roughly two weeks after Sprayberry's deputy appeared before the committee and faced harsh questioning.

At the conclusion of that meeting, lawmakers said they were left with more questions than answers. Following the meeting, NCEM officials refused to answer questions from WBTV and called the police in an effort to avoid having to answer questions.

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