NC House reinstates Hurricane Recovery Committee as new reports find improper spending of relief funds

Lawmakers looking into hurricane recovery

RALEIGH, N.C. (WBTV) - North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) announced the re-reinstatement of the Hurricane Recovery Committee on Tuesday, just one day after a second report found questionable spending of money intended to help those impacted by Hurricane Matthew.

The committee was originally formed in 2018, following a string of investigative reports from WBTV that uncovered little progress and other questions related to the hurricane recovery effort.

Two lawmakers from eastern North Carolina--the area of the state hit hardest by both Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018--requested the committee be re-formed last month.

“North Carolinians still waiting for housing relief deserve answers and accountability for these agonizing delays after two major hurricanes ravaged their communities,” Moore said in a press release announcing the committee being re-formed.

The committee will be tasked with investigating hurricane recovery efforts and will be made up of Republican and Democratic house members, largely from the eastern part of the state.

On Monday, the non-partisan Legislative Program Evaluation Division released a second report examining the use of money allocated for hurricane recovery.

Previously, PED had found slow and, at times, improper spending by the Cooper administration of a more than $200 million federal grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development meant to re-build homes damaged by Hurricane Matthew.

That report found the state had spent just one percent of that grant money as of December 2018.

The second report found officials with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, which is largely responsible for overseeing hurricane recovery efforts, spent millions of dollars to build low-income housing in violation of state law.

Specifically, the report found DPS awarded $5.35 million of state disaster recovery to an organization that then distributed the funds to individuals and companies that built low-income housing. Legislation allocating the money required it be spent on emergency housing and shelter for those displaced by hurricanes.

The PED report said many of the projects built with the money could not be traced to a specific benefit for hurricane victims. The report also found the money was not awarded using best practices for contracting, including the submission of requests for proposals.

A response to the PED report from Mike Sprayberry, who heads the Office of Emergency Management and oversees the disaster recovery efforts in North Carolina, defended both the use of the funds and the lack of formal bidding procedures.

Sprayberry noted that formal bidding procedures are not required by state law and would have slowed the process of deploying the disaster money.

He also defended the use of money for long-term housing.

“In order to provide context, it is important to note that by the time NCEM received the funding in early 2017, emergency sheltering operations for Hurricane Matthew, which struck on October 8, 2016, had mostly concluded. NCEM initially utilized the funds from this appropriation to place families in motels and to fund the Disaster Rental Assistance Program, which provided short-term housing needs,” Sprayberry’s response said. “At this point, many low-to moderate income families were in desperate need of housing assistance and neither FEMA nor HUD funding was available to help.”

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