Feb 24 2020

The Daily Advance

Eastern North Carolina is unfortunately all too familiar with the human and financial cost of natural disasters. In recent years, Hurricanes Matthew, Florence, and Dorian have caused historic flooding damage that has left many of our neighbors without homes and many of our communities with infrastructure in need of repair.

As North Carolina’s senator, my top priorities have been securing recovery funding for families and local communities and leading the effort to cut government red tape to deliver assistance to North Carolinians sooner.  I’m proud of the results I’ve delivered. By working across the aisle with Congressional leaders and my colleagues, I’ve helped secure billions of dollars in federal assistance for North Carolina’s long-term recovery, vital funding that will go towards rebuilding damaged homes, repairing roads, bridges, and schools, and providing relief to small businesses and farmers.

Flooding damage has also taken a toll on our state’s military installations, making life harder for our brave men and women in uniform. That’s why I successfully pushed for $1.2 billion in federal assistance for Camp Lejeune, New River and Cherry Point, assistance that will go towards repairing the hundreds of buildings and military housing units that were damaged by Hurricane Florence.

While I’ve helped secure billions in federal disaster relief for North Carolina, there have been  bureaucratic hurdles preventing that assistance from reaching families and local communities in a timely manner.  After our state government was consistently labeled as a “slow spender” for failing to keep pace with transferring federal assistance to local communities, I took action by introducing legislation. My proposal takes concrete steps to empower many communities to control their own recovery efforts, while streamlining the process for future federal allocations following natural disasters.

Earlier this month, I introduced another piece of legislation called the “HELP Act,” which addresses the bureaucratic delays that communities in North Carolina, including Greenville are facing that prevents them from beginning mitigation projects immediately following a natural disaster.

Following a Major Disaster Declaration from the President, FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) is triggered to help the impacted community enact mitigation measures that reduce risk of loss of life and property before the next storm. However, current regulation prohibits an applicant for FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program from starting construction on a mitigation project until they receive an answer from FEMA as to whether their project is ultimately awarded funding. In the months and sometimes years it takes to receive an answer from FEMA, all too often another storm or natural disaster has already occurred.

For example, following Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the Greenville Utilities Commission wanted to utilize the HMGP program to improve a substation that was flooded and elevate a transmission circuit that came dangerously close to flooding. The Commission could not begin construction on the project while they waited to hear from FEMA or they would forfeit the opportunity to receive any FEMA funding. Instead, an entire year was wasted waiting for an answer from FEMA. In that year, another hurricane season came and passed. 

We cannot continue to paralyze our communities from taking action to prevent future damage and potential loss of life because of bureaucratic red tape. The HELP Act will ensure that Greenville or any other North Carolina community never has to experience this again. 

I remain committed to fighting for commonsense reforms to our disaster recovery programs and will continue fighting to ensure that North Carolina has every resource it needs to recover from natural disasters. By cutting red tape, holding bureaucrats accountable, and pushing for smart solutions, I’m confident that we can ensure that not only will our local communities have the timely resources they need to recover from a natural disaster, but also the flexibility and support to prepare for the next one.