Federal efforts to speed up recovery for hurricane victims

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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – People in both Carolinas are still recovering from devastating hurricanes such as Mathew and Florence, but hurricane seasons continue to come while people are stuck waiting for recovery.

Terri Straka’s home in Socastee was damaged by flooding after Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Florence.

“I literally had to rebuild it from the ground up two times and that’s been in the past five years,” said flood victim Terri Straka.

Terri, like others in the Carolinas, are stuck in a repetitive flooding cycle.

“This was my investment and I don’t want to sacrifice it, but who am I going to sell it to? Who’s going to buy it? I couldn’t even morally sell it to anyone because I know what’s going to happen,” said Straka.

Recovery Efforts can be a slow bureaucratic process, but some lawmakers are making a federal push to cut the red tape.

“We had at one point over 300 million that was held at the state for over a year and we just don’t want that to happen in the future,” said U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

Sen. Thom Tillis and six others introduced the HELP Act, which would allow local and state governments to move quickly on recovery projects funded through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Program

The bill allows the programs to start without FEMA’s required approval which currently can take several monthts to more than a year.

“We have to accelerate the buyout process,” said Sen. Tillis.

To do that, Sen. Tillis along with Sen. Richard Burr introduced another piece of legislation
that gives FEMA a 60-day timeline for making decisions on whether to buy out properties. It also allows counties and local municipalities to ask the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to distribute assistance to them directly, rather than to the state.


This comes after hud previously designated North Carolina a “slow spender” of the grant.

“It’s not meant to be an insult to the state government. What we’re trying to do is find the most efficient way to get the resources into the communities as quickly as possible so they can have an impact,” said Sen. Tillis.

Now, North Carolina is the first state to have its Hurricane Florence action plan approved, and is one step closer to getting more than half a billion federal dollars for victims.

Part of the plan includes more than $325 million to repair and reconstruct homes damaged by Florence, and more than $32 million to buy out homes in flood prone areas.

The money comes from Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Funding, which is controlled by HUD and passed by Congress.

States must wait for a federal register to be published providing rules on how to use the disaster grants. It took 500 days from the day Hurricane Florence made landfall for the federal government to publish the federal register.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and other governors are calling on Congress to formally authorize the disaster grant program.

North Carolina is still awaiting the formal grant agreement from HUD. Once the agreement is signed, states will start receiving funding and have six years to spend it

South Carolina is still working on its Hurricane Florence Action Plan. Its Hurricane Matthew plan was approved three years ago, and to date they spent $55 million of the $70 million designated to recover or rebuild homes damaged by Matthew. No money was designated for buyouts after that storm.

For many people in Socastee, they hope the newest action plan will finally keep their heads above water.

“I love this place, I dont want to leave, but i have to. It’s critical,” said Straka.

Both proposed pieces of legislation are sitting in committees.

To read the bills click here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/3285

https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/2796/text

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