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NC Lawmakers OK $400M in Storm Spending10/16 06:18

   RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- The sharp partisanship that's typified North 
Carolina's government was buried temporarily on Monday as legislators approved 
spending $400 million to quickly help people and communities reeling from 
flooding left by Hurricane Florence and setting aside another $450 million for 
upcoming needs.

   The emergency spending plan unveiled a month after Florence slammed into the 
state would help farmers and fishermen who suffered economic losses, keep 
college students in school despite storm-related setbacks, and repair damaged 
school buildings.

   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.

   "There'll be no tax increases and no interruptions or disruptions from a 
budgetary perspective of any of our existing important programs," said Rep. 
Nelson Dollar, a Raleigh-area Republican who heads the House budget-writing 
committee.

   The Florence relief spending legislators have promised so far represents 
about a half of the $1.5 billion Gov. Roy Cooper's office estimated last week 
will be needed over a five-year recovery.

   More than 30 inches (76 centimeters) of rain from Florence fell in some 
parts of the state, 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.

   The package approved Monday includes $95 million for repairing and upgrading 
public school, university and community college property damaged during 
Florence. About $7 million will help college and university students remain 
enrolled despite sudden, storm-related expenses.

   Farmers needing to buy hay, repair roads and otherwise rebuild agricultural 
operations will be in line to share $50 million. Homeowners making repairs, 
needing mortgage help or accepting buyouts to move out of flood plains can 
split $23 million. Another $3.5 million goes to a program that helps low-income 
households that lost food because of flooding or electricity outages.

   The GOP-controlled legislature started off recovery spending two weeks ago 
with $56 million to match federal recovery dollars, replace lost pay for school 
lunch workers and for other state recovery programs. Legislators expect to 
approve further spending next month  --- after elections in which most 
lawmakers will be seeking re-election.

   Hours earlier, dozens of people from communities damaged by the storm sought 
out legislators to urge them to provide recovery money.

   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."


(KA)

 
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