Rep. Jones frustrated at slow pace of relief for Hurricane Matthew victims

RALEIGH, NC (WECT) - After walking out of a committee meeting Monday discussing funds for victims of Hurricane Matthew, Rep. Brenden Jones (R-Columbus) says he did not get the answers to his questions.

"To be honest with you, we saw a lot of pretty charts and a lot of pretty graphs, but we still have no answers," Jones said about the meeting of the House Select Committee on Disaster Relief. "When we presented (Emergency Management) Director (Mike) Sprayberry with a timeline request, we heard crickets. I am saddened that we are 568 days into this, and we're pretty much in the same spot we were day one."

North Carolina's emergency management chief says funds for Hurricane Matthew recovery continue to flow but acknowledged the process for homeowners to tap into federal repair funds is laborious and frustrating.

Sprayberry took heated questions Monday from House committee members with constituents still waiting for grants to pay for home repairs already done or yet to be done after the October 2016 storm. The committee focused largely on $237 million allocated by the federal government last year but have essentially yet to be distributed.

Fair Bluff is one of the hardest hit areas still recovering from Hurricane Matthew more than 18 months after the storm hit.

"My folks are 568 days out of their home," said Rep. Jones, who is vice-chair of the committee. "There's just no excuse for us to be this far behind South Carolina. If this state needed some advice, they should have looked to South Carolina who has taken charge. They have 52 people in their homes and plan to have as many as 500 in homes by December. There is no reason why this administration shouldn't be further along."

Sprayberry says the federal government requires these grant applicants to go through a strict application process and wants to streamline it. He pointed out $632 million in other federal and state funds already have been spent but recognized there are still "disaster survivors" who need help.

Jones said he was disappointed Sprayberry did not have a timeline for moving the federal money to hurricane victims, or on streamlining the process victims must complete before receiving the grants from HUD.

"I just thought it was just another excuse," Jones said about Sprayberry's explanation to committee members. "It appears this administration is not cutting red tape like I would. They're cutting it in links, and they're just making it very difficult for these folks to apply, a 24-step application, eight-step process. We need to be streamlining this. A week before last when I approached Mr. (Assistant Director for Resiliency Nick) Burk with this, again when I approached the director with this today, no straight answers about streamlining."

The select committee does not have a set schedule of when it will meet. Jones says if he does not get answers to his questions, he plans to use the upcoming session of the General Assembly to press Gov. Roy Cooper's administration publicly until he is satisfied.

"We're exactly where we were last meeting," he said. "We're still unsure of that this administration is going to do other than a lot of red tape. I've made a promise that come session (of the General Assembly that starts May 16), I will stand on the floor (of the House of Representatives) every single day and call this administration out if that's what it takes to get help for the people of eastern and southeastern North Carolina."

Copyright 2018 WECT. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.