North Carolina lawmakers mull Hurricane Florence spending

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The Cross Creek neighborhood in Hampstead was slammed by Hurricane Florence, and must now prepare for another storm. (Photo: Matt Bennett/WWAY)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina lawmakers on Monday were ironing out decisions on spending hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up from Hurricane Florence and help the storm’s victims.

The General Assembly resumed a special session that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper began two weeks ago with legislative leaders promising to allocate $794 million more in taxpayer money for rebuilding. That’s on top of the GOP-controlled legislature starting off with $56 million two weeks ago to match federal recovery dollars, replace lost pay for school lunch workers and for other state recovery programs.

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Most of the money would come from the state’s emergency reserves. The state has about $2 billion in rainy-day funds, and this year’s state budget left $560 million unspent.

Last week, Cooper proposed a $1.5 billion recovery plan and asked for $750 million of that as a down payment, with a focus on housing, farmers and schools.

More than 30 inches (76 centimeters) of rain from Florence fell in some parts of the state last month, and along with the storm surge, caused widespread flooding that damaged tens of thousands of homes and other buildings. Authorities have confirmed 40 storm-related deaths. The damage is estimated to reach billions of dollars, including at least $1.1 billion in crop and livestock losses.

Dozens of people from communities damaged by the storm urged legislators to release the money that will help spur recovery.

Robert Koonce Sr., 67, of Kinston, said he hoped in this time of need that politicians would suspend the intense partisan competition between legislative Republicans and Cooper’s administration.

“Let’s lay aside all this politics,” he said. “Because the truth is the storm was real, the flooding was real, the people are real, our situation is real. And we have the funding to do it. Let’s go help these people.”

Koonce said he has cousins and uncles who were wiped out in the hard-hit towns of Trenton and Pollocksville. They lost homes they had owned for decades, and now, he said, those relatives in their 60s and 70s are wondering where they’re going to live in the years ahead.

Shalonda Regan, 31, of Lumberton, said her home was badly damaged when Hurricane Matthew two years ago flooded the city and 3 feet (1 meter) of water washed indoors. Five months after Regan wrapped up rebuilding with a new roof and furniture, Florence pushed another 6 inches (15 centimeters) into the home’s lower level. The water buckled the wood flooring and destroyed the furniture.

Regan wants politicians to listen to what local communities consider the most important kinds of help they need. For example, her neighborhood is still stacked with soggy and moldy piles of furniture and other household trash waiting to be hauled away. The mold triggers her asthma, Regan said.

“I wanted to lend a voice from people who were actually affected,” she said. Lawmakers should “just pay closer attention to us who are on the ground being affected.”

Monday’s legislative gathering was expected to last only one day ahead of elections in three weeks in which most lawmakers will be seeking re-election.