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Congress sends disaster aid bill to President

A $19.1 billion disaster aid bill sailed through the U.S. House on Monday and headed to President Donald Trump for his expected signature, overcoming months of infighting, misjudgment and a feud between Trump and congressional Democrats.

Bladen County was hammered by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence last year. Both storms caused severe damage and flooding. Elizabethtown recorded more than 30 inches of rain from Florence.

“This is a good day for North Carolina,” said Congressman David Rouzer, whose district includes Bladen County. “I’m pleased Congress has finally approved a disaster relief package after months of negotiations — particularly for our farm families who will be receiving their very first bit of federal assistance to help them recover from the absolute wipeout of Hurricane Florence. The other resources being provided will help enable a stronger recovery for all of our communities so hard hit by Florence, including our military installations.”

Lawmakers gave the measure final congressional approval by 354-58 in the House’s first significant action after returning from a 10-day recess. It was backed by all 222 voting Democrats and 132 Republicans, including the GOP’s top leaders and many of its legislators from areas hit by hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and fires. Fifty-eight Republicans voted “no,” including many of the party’s most conservative members.

Conservative Republicans in the House held up the bill last week, objecting on three occasions to efforts by Democratic leaders to pass the bill by a voice vote requiring unanimity. They said the legislation — which reflects an increasingly permissive attitude in Washington on spending to address disasters that sooner or later hit every region of the country — shouldn’t be rushed through without a recorded vote.

“North Carolinians recovering from recent storms have been waiting for Washington to move on much-needed relief, and the legislation passed (Monday) is an encouraging step in the right direction,” Gov. Roy Cooper said. “North Carolinians stand to benefit from many of the programs included in this bill and I encourage the President to sign it quickly.”

To date, North Carolinians have received more than $1 billion in state and federal aid since Hurricane Florence struck. Cooper has requested an additional $6.3 billion in relief, and late last year, the governor established the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency to help draw down and disburse aid to disaster-affected communities. Cooper’s latest budget would also invest $1.5 million in statewide search and rescue teams and $250,000 in the North Carolina 2-1-1 system.

“Americans across the nation desperately need this disaster relief funding, especially in North Carolina where many are still struggling after Hurricane Florence,” said Sen. Richard Burr, who represents North Carolina. “It’s a shame this critical legislation was needlessly delayed in the House by political grandstanding.”

Specifically, this funding includes:

• $381 million to repair damages to Marine Corps installations, including Camp Lejeune.

• $1 billion for the Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies account to better support emergency preparation and repairs for floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters.

• $600 million for the planning and construction of projects to replace facilities damaged by Hurricanes Florence and Michael.

• $2.4 billion for Community Development Block Grants for disasters since 2017, and permits states to interchangeably use funds from Hurricane Matthew for Hurricane Florence.

• $3 billion for farm disaster assistance to cover producers’ losses stemming from the 2018 and 2019 natural disasters.

• $168 million in mitigation dollars, which were appropriated to North Carolina in 2018, to be distributed to the state within the next 90 days.

“Since last fall, I have been working with Congressional Leadership to ensure our state receives the resources it needs to recover from Hurricane Florence,” Sen. Thom Tillis said. “Too many families continue to feel the effects of the devastation caused by Hurricane Florence, and I’m encouraged that we have finally put politics aside and are sending a bipartisan bill to the President’s desk that will allow North Carolina to continue its recovery.”

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