The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation that will devote $1.14 billion in block grants to Hurricane Florence relief in North Carolina.
Republicans U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis requested the funding in a letter to appropriators, and commended the its approval alongside South Carolina's senators.
“This has been a truly team Carolina effort, beginning before Florence even made landfall," Tillis said in the press release. "We have had productive meetings and conversations with Congressional leaders to secure disaster relief and an initial down payment."
The appropriation also gives $540 million in block grants to South Carolina.
"This is only the beginning of our efforts to ensure North and South Carolina have federal resources to recover from the devastation caused by Florence, and that hardworking families, small businesses and farmers have the assistance they need to rebuild and get back on their feet," Tillis said in the press release.
The federal funding will constitute at least 75 percent of the total Hurricane Florence relief spending, as mandated by the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. The remaining quarter — or less, depending on if the federal government decides to increase its appropriation — will come from the state legislature when it convenes on Oct. 9.
Gov. Roy Cooper has requested for FEMA to supply 100 percent of the initial funding for a response to Florence.
“Because the funding comes through Community Development Block Grants, we will be able to better transition from an emergency response to long-term recovery efforts, knowing the path ahead of us is long and arduous," Burr said in the press release. "Throughout this process, I’ve been impressed by the coordination and rapid response from local, state and federal officials."
Democratic U.S. Rep. David Price, who is the only N.C. representative on the House Appropriations Committee, said in a press release he was pleased to help secure disaster relief funding but understands there is more work to be done.
“While it’s clear additional funding will be required to meet the needs of the many communities still reeling from this storm, this funding, once enacted into law, will be a significant down payment that will help millions of residents in North Carolina and elsewhere recover from recent disasters," Price said in his statement.
Bill Gentry, an assistant professor of health policy and management in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, said natural disaster relief funding operates differently than many people believe it does.
“You hear complaints after these type of events from certain individuals who say ‘That’s the reason why people don’t have insurance: they know that they’re going to get this federal money,’" Gentry said.
Often times though people can't afford insurance, or if they're renting, they don't necessarily get insurance, Gentry said. The federal aid is designed to help people get back up and to help them with immediate needs he said.
Gentry said there are also a lot of barriers to accessing resources within FEMA.
"And so right from the beginning you’re creating barriers. People who have access to the Internet and people who have access to a working phone are already registering and already getting information and applying for assistance," he said.
He said the best way to register in the FEMA system is to call their 800 number or go to their website.
Gentry said FEMA eventually sets up physical assistance centers in affected counties, but this also creates barriers for people who don't have transportation or are unable to understand and appropriately fill out all the paperwork.
“It’s not a perfect system by any means, and they do try to capture people as they can, but it is a challenge for people in lower socioeconomic levels to get the same access that other people do," Gentry said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.