According to the FEMA website, as of Dec. 6, homeowners and renters in Orange County received more than $226,000 in federal and state grants following Hurricane Florence.
“I do believe that there is a level of frustration, and rightfully so, because things do take a long time, so we worked very hard to bring things as close to normal as possible again,” said Kate Murphy, spokesperson for New Hanover County.
Murphy said a full recovery could take up to five years in Wilmington, based on precedents set by other communities recovering from disaster.
In order for a county to receive federal aid, the President has to declare a disaster declaration.
FEMA came to North Carolina before the storm actually hit and prepared for the storm to impact all 100 counties. Only 34 counties, however, qualified for grants and FEMA assistance.
John Mills, spokesperson for FEMA said that more than $1 billion in federal funding has been provided to Hurricane Florence survivors in North Carolina, including $556 million in FEMA flood insurance payments, and about 15,000 claims have been filed.
Mills said FEMA has provided $126 million in grants to 34,000 households for temporary rental assistance, replacing personal property, home repairs and other needs.
He said that the Small Business Administration has approved $381 million in disaster loans for 9,600 homeowners, renters and businesses. Most of the SBA disaster loans have been approved for homeowners and renters.
For losses not covered by insurance, FEMA has provided $126 million in grants to 34,000 households for temporary rental assistance, basic home repairs and other needs, such as replacing personal property.
In all of North Carolina, FEMA is paying for 273 households to stay in hotels, and 601 FEMA travel trailers or mobile units have been installed.
Mills said the FEMA assistance can last for up to 18 months from the start date of the storm, which was Sept. 14, 2018. He said there were 23 Disaster Recovery Centers opened across the state, which received 42,287 visits combined, including re-visits. The last DRCs closed in December 2018.
“One of the common reasons that people don’t qualify for FEMA is because their homes are determined to be habitable,” said Kirsten Leloudis, a staff attorney with Legal Aid N.C. “Survivors can also be denied FEMA benefits for more technical reasons, including errors on their applications.”
If a survivor got denied from FEMA, they still have the opportunity to appeal the denial for up to 60 days. Leloudis said plenty of people have not received the FEMA benefits they applied for, either because their application has not gone through yet, they are submitting an appeal, or they are waiting on a decision. She encourages people to not give up because FEMA can reconsider appeals even if they are initially denied, and people can use resources like Legal Aid N.C. to help them.
“For those who didn’t qualify for FEMA, based on income or other aid they had already gotten, they may be eligible for the HUD block grant money,” said Keith Acree, spokesperson for North Carolina Emergency Management.
The Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery, which is distributed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is Congress-appropriated funding used to help repair homes after a disaster. Acree said the N.C. Emergency Management division had never handled this grant on their own before, so when Hurricane Matthew hit, there was a delay in the program. He said North Carolina is still waiting for this funding after Florence.
The Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power program was implemented by N.C. Emergency Management in December. This program’s goal is to partially fix damaged homes to the point where they are livable again and have a working bathroom and kitchen and a safe roof. This way, families can get back in their homes as soon as possible and be there for the more long-term repairs. The deadline to apply for the STEP program is Feb. 1.
Murphy said collaboration at the hurricane recovery office with nonprofits, faith-based organizations and other state and local institutions has been key to helping place people. She spoke of an instance where a family of three was leaving the shelter but had nowhere to go. Immediately, someone else in the group was able to contact a landlord and find them a house to live in.
“You’ll see miracles happen here,” Murphy said.
The government shutdown has also added to the delay in relief.
“We have seen that the shutdown affects disaster survivors by adding just another layer of uncertainty to situations that are already pretty uncertain,” Leloudis said.
The government has been reopened, but Acree said there has not been any funding provided to pending applicants. He said that Emergency Management is, however, in communication with HUD and is reviewing potential amendments to the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery program.