RALEIGH — Carteret County and other communities affected by Hurricane Florence in 2018 are one step closer to being able to access federal funds for repairing damaged homes and other recovery efforts.

North Carolina stands to receive more than $542 million in Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for Florence recovery. CDBG-DR funds will be administered through the N.C. Office of Recovery and Resiliency for the agency’s ReBuild NC program to help repair, rebuild and elevate homes and related recovery efforts.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday HUD has released details of a federal register notice allowing the NCORR to move forward with developing an action plan for those funds, a necessary step before communities can access the federal money.

“This is an important step by the federal government to get additional funds to families still recovering from Hurricane Florence,” Gov. Cooper said in a statement. “North Carolinians have waited for these funds since 2018 and we will continue to push for federal legislation to help the federal government to speed up this process and get assistance to the people who need it.”

State officials anticipate having a draft action plan complete by next month. The draft will be published and made available for a 30-day public comment period, after which HUD will take up to 45 days to review the plan before funds can be spent.

“(The action plan) lays out for HUD how you intend to spend the money, so it lays out the programs you intend to deploy to carry out these funds,” said Laura Hogshead, chief operating officer for NCORR.

Ms. Hogshead said once HUD approves the action plan, the state will enter into a grant agreement with the agency and NCORR can open up grant applications for the funds. She expects the application period to open around May. Applications will be available on the website rebuild.nc.gov, where there is also more information about the CDBG-DR program, including who is eligible to apply.

In addition to home repairs and reconstruction, Ms. Hogshead said the CDBG-DR funds may be used to buyout homes in flood-prone areas, improve storm-damaged municipal infrastructure and repair rental units managed by small-scale landlords. She said NCORR also works with the N.C. Housing Finance Agency to build new affordable housing.

Ms. Hogshead noted CDBG-DR funds are intended to be the last source of funding to fulfill remaining unmet needs after the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal and state agencies have provided disaster recovery assistance.

Carteret County is one of 10 counties and four zip codes identified by the Federal Register notice as the areas most affected by Florence. The other impacted counties are Brunswick, Columbus, Craven, Duplin, Jones, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender and Robeson. In addition, certain zip codes in Scotland, Cumberland, Bladen and Pamlico counties were identified in the notice.

Federal guidelines require the state spend at least 80% of CDGB-DR funding in those identified counties and zip codes.

Ted Austin with Coastal Community Action in Newport said while it is good news the state is moving forward on an action plan, it is too early to know what exactly that means for his organization or Carteret County. CCA has administered CDBG funds in the past, but he said federal funds for Florence recovery have been “slim to none,” so far.

“For those people who were damaged by Florence, and there are a lot of them, there is some hope that funds will be available,” Mr. Austin said.

HUD appropriated $3.8 billion for disaster recovery in two congressional acts, one shortly after Florence in October 2018 and another in June 2019. Additional HUD funds will go to states affected by other natural disasters in recent years.

Gov. Cooper has criticized the slow speed at which federal agencies publish notices allowing the state to develop action plans so communities can access funds. The governor has called for reform in the way federal funds are distributed after major disasters.

Ms. Hogshead admitted it took HUD an “unusually” long time publish the Federal Register notice this time around, but she said NCORR was able to get a head start on the draft action plan because the agency went through a similar process for receiving CDBG-DR funds after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. She said the action plan is already about 85-90% complete.

“We’ve learned a lot in our Hurricane Matthew recovery process, and as we’ve learned more, we’ve amended our action plan to reflect those lessons,” she said. “I feel like we’re in a very good place to roll out a strong Hurricane Florence program.”

In addition to CDBG-DR and other federal mitigation funding, the NCORR administers state-funded grants and loan programs to assist local governments. To date, North Carolina has spent $3.3 billion in state and federal funding since Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Contact Elise Clouser at elise@thenewstimes.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.

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