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Lawmakers Approve $56.5 Million Hurricane Relief Package, Returning Oct. 15 For Additional Steps Toward Recovery

Katherine Joyce | NCASA

The General Assembly convened for a one-day session Tuesday to approve the initial legislation needed to help much of Southeastern North Carolina begin recovering from Hurricane Florence. House and Senate budget leaders introduced the "Hurricane Florence Emergency Response Act" in two companion bills, filed as House Bill 4 and Senate Bill 3, providing $56.5 million in hurricane relief funding.

House Bill 4, the bill that lawmakers ultimately chose to move forward, sets up the Hurricane Florence Disaster Recovery Fund and allocates $56.5 million from the state's $2 billion rainy day fund to be used as follows:

  • Provides $6.5 million for the Department of Public Instruction to supplement or replace lost compensation of child nutrition employees, who are federal receipts-supported, due to school closures related to Hurricane Florence. Parameters for this allocation are established in Senate Bill 2, which lawmakers approved separately on Tuesday to establish school calendar and personnel pay relief in districts impacted by the storm.
  • Provides $500,000 to meet any required state match for federal funding that is set to flow to counties designated as federal disaster areas.

The bill also extends the voter registration deadline from Oct. 12 to Oct. 15 in counties that have a federal disaster declaration, and would allow county election boards to move polling and early voting sites from damaged locations with a unanimous vote. It also would allocate $400,000 to the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement to educate storm-affected voters about their options.

The legislation easily passed both chambers Tuesday afternoon after clearing a joint meeting of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees earlier that same day. Governor Cooper signed into law House Bill 4 and Senate Bill 2 on October 3. Bill sponsors said the measure is only the first of many steps that will be needed to help North Carolina rebound from the devastating storm and flooding. Lawmakers and Governor Roy Cooper have agreed to have another special legislative session on storm recovery Oct. 15.

State Budget Director Charlie Perusse gave the Joint Appropriations Committee an update on the larger relief package during its meeting Tuesday morning. He said his office and state agencies are working "around the clock" to compile "the most comprehensive damage needs assessment that's ever been put together." Perusse told lawmakers Tuesday morning, "The governor's charge to my office was very simple. He wants us to put together a bold, comprehensive, data-driven recovery plan, that after recovery, makes and demonstrates that our communities are stronger and smarter."

Perusse said the proposal now being assembled will outline recovery support needed in 10 categories:

housing, agriculture, state and local government infrastructure, education operations and infrastructure, business, transportation, natural resources and resiliency, human services, utilities and recovery operations support.

He said this recovery plan will be assembled in the “three-week range” rather than the two to three months it has taken after previous hurricanes to determine action needed to provide support to citizens, businesses, and local governments.

Katherine Joyce