LUMBERTON — Robeson County can expect to see more federal money coming to assist hurricane relief efforts, U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger said Thursday, including about $300 million that could be available soon.
During a stop at The Robesonian newspaper, Pittenger, a Republican from Charlotte, said he has been assured by U.S. Rep. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, who leads the House Committee on Appropriations, that money will be provided in the 2018 budget to help North Carolina counties continue to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, which swept through Robeson County on Oct. 8 and caused record flooding.
“Congressman Pittenger and I have worked very closely regarding appropriation needs to address the critical disaster relief in North Carolina,” Frelinghuysen said in a statement. “We must stand with these hurting people, and will do everything possible working with Congressman Pittenger and the North Carolina delegation to ensure the needed financial assistance is secured this year and into the 2018 budget.”
Pittenger represents the 9th Congressional District, which includes all of Robeson County. He said Gov. Roy Cooper did not have all of the figures from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal entities involved in providing hurricane relief funds when he charged in May that North Carolina had only received $6 million of nearly $1 billion requested federal funds.
“The governor’s numbers were erroneous. I told the governor recently that he didn’t put all the money on the table. I told him the federal government had put a lot more than just $6 million into Hurricane Matthew relief,” Pittenger said. “I was immediately backed up by Congressman David Price, who told the governor the same thing.”
Price, a Democrat, represents North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District, which includes parts of Orange, Durham and Wake counties.
Last fall Congress appropriated $334 million in federal funds to aid hurricane recovery efforts, Pittenger said. This money is being used to help rebuild homes, roads and infrastructure.
Pittenger’s figures also show that North Carolina has received as of April almost $752 million in federal funds that do not require congressional authorization. That money includes FEMA public and individual assistance funds, hazard mitigation grants, Small Business Administration loans, and National Flood Insurance Program payments.
“We are now awaiting an additional $300 million, where 80 percent of the funds will go to the four counties with the most (hurricane) devastation,” Pittenger said. “Robeson County is one of those counties.”
Pittenger encouraged patience, pointing out that government’s wheels do not always spin quickly.
“All of us in the state’s congressional delegation, including Sen. Richard Burr and Sen. Thom Tillis, are working hard to get the funds,” Pittenger said. “It takes time. The bureaucracy is horrible. FEMA is waiting until all of its information is gathered. We have to wait for the governor’s data.”
Matthew hit Robeson County and Lumberton with devastating force, causing flooding of the Lumber River never seen before. Most of the damage in the county seat was in South Lumberton and West Lumberton, where hundreds of residents were flooded out of their homes. Many have not returned, and will not be able to return to their former homes. Hundreds of public housing units remain offline.
The Robesonian’s office at 2175 Roberts Ave. was swamped by flooding, with all of its contents essentially destroyed, and its press barely being spared. The newspaper staff moved into a renovated office on June 1.
As part of his visit, Pittenger presented The Robesonian with a framed copy of the minutes of the congressional record during which he praised the newspaper for its work in the aftermath of Matthew, when a limited staff continued to work to provide need-to-know information mainly through social media. He also presented the newspaper with a U.S. flag that was flying on the Capitol grounds the day he honored the newspaper in the U.S. House.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-4165.