By Anne Blythe
A political storm that brewed last week between Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican legislative leaders over language in the Storm Recovery Act of 2019 calmed this week.
The Democratic governor signed the bill into law, approving the release of some $180 million in state funds for recovery and resilience projects related to hurricanes Dorian, Florence, Matthew and Michael.
“This legislation helps families recovering from Dorian and previous storms, especially those left behind by the federal government,” Ford Porter, a Cooper spokesperson, said in a statement. “The Governor pushed for this funding and the Republican leadership was willing to risk losing it by attaching unrelated political power grabs, but the Governor believes helping these survivors must prevail.”
The bill was approved overwhelmingly last week by both General Assembly chambers amid a stalemate between Republican lawmakers and Cooper over the $24 billion budget he vetoed in late June.
Cooper vetoed the lawmakers’ budget for the fiscal year that began in July several days before the start of it, saying the spending plan did not include high enough raises for teachers nor include money to expand Medicaid eligibility to as many as 550,000 low-income adults who could qualify for the federal assistance.
That impasse resulted in the state House and Senate putting forward and adopting a series of mini-budgets to release money such as that in the Storm Recovery Act adopted on Thursday.
Before any votes were taken last week, Cooper’s office raised concerns about language in the bill that they contended would shift control over money the state receives for lawsuit settlements to the General Assembly.
Sen. Phil Berger’s (R-Eden) office disputed the governor’s claims, contending the language in the bill “reaffirms what state law is — money received by the state goes to the state treasury.”
Now that Cooper has signed the bill into law, the next question is how and when the $121 million in state matching funds included in the overall plan will be released.
In health care funding, the Storm Recovery Act of 2019 includes:
- $70.8 million for the Hurricane Florence Disaster Recovery Fund established in 2018 to provide matches for federal disaster assistance programs.
- $33.1 million to the State Emergency Response and Disaster Relief Fund to provide $11.1 million for programs related to Hurricane Matthew and $4.1 million for programs related to Hurricane Michael.
- $17.8 million in state matching funds for Hurricane Dorian, which whipped and flooded Ocracoke Island.
- $17.6 million to the Department of Environmental Quality to match additional federal funds for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.
- $1.5 million in annual funds in each of the next two years to cover the long-term service contract for software and service upgrades to the Voice Interoperability Plan for Emergency Responders (VIPER) system.
Cooper’s office also announced this week grants of $50,000 each from the Kate B. Reynolds Trust to support “infrastructure-related capital needs, emergency supplies and equipment to sustain services during emergencies and natural disasters.”
Beneficiaries include health departments in storm-affected eastern North Carolina counties, community health centers in the region, as well as Bladen County and Hoke County hospitals.
Disclosure: The Kate B. Reynolds Trust is an underwriter of North Carolina Health News.