Nov 6 2019

Legislation Addresses Slow Distribution of Assistance To N.C. Families and Allows HUD To Allocate CDBG-DR Funds Directly To Local Communities, Expedite Funding Allocations To Grant Recipients, And Require Slow Spenders To Explain Why They Fail To Meet Deadlines

Today, North Carolina Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr introduced legislation that cuts red tape at the federal and state levels in order to bring federal disaster relief to North Carolina families and local communities sooner.

The Ensuring Disaster Recovery For Local Communities Act addresses the unacceptably slow distribution of federal assistance to local communities by taking concrete steps to empower local communities to control their own recovery efforts, and streamlines the process for future federal allocations following natural disasters.

The legislation is based on findings from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) and N.C. General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division report and incorporates feedback Senator Tillis solicited and received from local and state officials from both parties on ways to improve the recovery process for individuals seeking assistance.  The NCGA report noted the expertise of local governments, including “entitlement communities” was not utilized by the state government in administering federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds, and that the state scrapped its original plan to rely heavily on counties and instead opted for a more state-centric plan.

To help make sure North Carolina families and their communities receive the federal assistance they were promised in a timely manner, The Ensuring Disaster Recovery For Local Communities Act sets tangible spending goals for grantees (usually state administrations) and allows cities and counties to request HUD allocate federal assistance directly to them.  

Additionally, to assist North Carolina families still waiting to receive “buyout” assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), the legislation requires FEMA to make a decision on an application no later than sixty days after it is submitted by the state. The legislation also directs the GAO to undertake a comprehensive review of property acquisition or “buyout” programs and make recommendations on how to streamline funds to storm survivors.

“North Carolina families are unfortunately all too familiar with the destruction caused by natural disasters like Hurricanes Matthew, Florence, and most recently Dorian. We cannot let red tape stand in the way of helping them get their lives back together,” said Senator Tillis. “My legislation is based on input from federal, state, and local officials, as well as families in North Carolina that are still reeling due to an inefficient and heavily bureaucratic recovery process. The commonsense reforms I’m proposing will empower local communities and get federal assistance in the hands of North Carolina families sooner. I look forward to working with my colleagues to reform and streamline the disaster recovery process and make it more effective and accountable for North Carolinians who need a helping hand after a disaster strikes.”

“I’m also encouraged by HUD’s recent designation indicating North Carolina is now ‘on pace’ to allocate the federal resources my colleagues and I fought hard to secure,” Senator Tillis continued. “Too many North Carolinians have been waiting for too long for hurricane recovery resources. I was happy to work with local, state, and federal officials to get the state in a better place, but our work is not done and our legislation is the next step forward.”

“It’s unacceptable that some North Carolina counties are still waiting for disaster recovery assistance after the devastation left by recent hurricanes,” said Senator Burr. “We can help fix this long-standing problem by empowering local communities to directly receive federal assistance from HUD if there are continued delays. This legislation does just that, cutting government red tape and streamlining the allocation process to deliver much-needed assistance to families and businesses in need. I’m proud to work with Senator Tillis on this important legislation so North Carolina communities can more efficiently recover and prepare before the next storm hits.”

Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr led the North Carolina Congressional Delegation’s successful effort to secure long-term recovery funding in the immediate aftermath of Hurricanes Matthew, Florence, and Dorian. Tillis and Burr also led the delegation’s efforts to secure a provision signed into law in June that allows the state of North Carolina to use Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Florence assistance interchangeably, giving the state more flexibility for the many communities that were hit by both historic storms.

After the Senators worked to secure hundreds of millions in federal assistance for North Carolina’s recovery, it became apparent the state was having trouble getting those resources to the victims who needed it most.  In response, Senator Tillis worked with the state and federal officials to remove burdensome administrative hurdles and as of October 1st, for the first time since Hurricane Mathew hit, the state has been designated an “on pace” spender by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

The Ensuring Disaster Recovery For Local Communities Act

To ensure federal assistance for all future disaster assistance flows to North Carolina victims and communities faster, Senator Tillis’ 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.
  • For communities that do not yet have a capacity to administer CDBG funds, HUD would provide each community with technical assistance, including HUD experts, to provide training and technical assistance to ensure those communities have the capacity to administer the funds.
  • Local communities can adopt the state grantee’s HUD-approved Action Plan to further expedite relief.
  • Amends existing federal law to give FEMA a 60-day timeline to make a decision on property acquisition or “buyout” applications.
  • Directs the GAO to undertake a comprehensive review of property acquisition programs administered by FEMA and make recommendations on how to streamline and expedite delivery of funds to storm survivors.