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The Daily Tar Heel

Easley Releases Floyd Funds

Easley indicated in February he would hold the funds in reserve for possible use against a state budget deficit that is nearly $800 million.

But in a letter addressed Friday to leaders of the N.C. House and Senate, Easley cited "the level of existing need reflected by the recent applications (for aid) from local governments" in releasing the money for use in Floyd relief.

"I am releasing the funds so that they can be used where they are most needed," Easley said in a press release.

"We will not balance the budget on the backs of the people who are most in need."

Easley's hand might have been forced by a March report from the N.C. Redevelopment Center, which oversees $836 million in state money the General Assembly set aside in December 1999 for Floyd relief.

The report stated that all but about $15 million of Floyd funding had already been earmarked for specific needs in the post-Floyd rebuilding effort.

Hurricane Floyd, the worst natural disaster in the state's history, dumped 20 inches of rain on a wide portion of eastern North Carolina in September 1999, leading to historic river flooding which caused about $6 billion in property damage.

The flooding destroyed approximately 8,000 homes and damaged 67,000 more.

The state has received more than 43,000 applications for aid from residents since the disaster, and many applicants are still undergoing eligibility screening.

But even with the massive state and federal aid programs that followed Floyd's deluge, many homes and businesses in the affected region are still condemned as unsuitable for occupation.

And not all money earmarked for flood recovery efforts has been distributed to victims.

Sen. Patrick Ballantine, R-Onslow, said that when he was briefed just recently by the Redevelopment Center, there was still about $200 million of unspent money sitting in the state Floyd fund.

"I have been assured the needs (of the flood victims) will be met," Ballantine said.

But other state legislators strike a cautious note about the future of Floyd relief -- urging that the state continue to fund relief programs.

Sen. Ed Warren, D-Pitt, said members of Senate committees have been directed to cut all budgets owing to the shortfall but that the Floyd money was urgently needed.

"My district covers the Neuse, Tar and Pamlico river basins, so we really got the worst of the worst here," Warren said.

"I still get calls from constituents about needs not being met."

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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