By Peter Vankevich
A letter stamp dated Oct. 8 from FEMA to Gov. Roy Cooper’s denied his Sept. 21 request for Individual Assistance for four counties as a result of Hurricane Dorian.
The letter, signed by Jeff Byard, Associate Administrator, Office of Response and Recovery, states “it has been determined that the impact to the individuals and households from this event is not of such severity and magnitude to warrant the designation of Individual Assistance under FEMA-444-Dr.”
The governor’s office only became aware of the decision last evening, according to Cooper’s press secretary Ford Porter.
He had sent out a press release at 1:46 p.m. Tuesday with the governor urging North Carolina’s U.S. senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to help get Individual Assistance for North Carolinians impacted by Hurricane Dorian.
The press release included his Oct. 8 letter to the two senators and states “Ocracoke Island in Hyde County bore the brunt of Dorian’s impact, and its residents continue to face difficult conditions as they await more help.”
The Individual Assistance request filed on Sept. 21, covered Carteret, Dare, Hyde, and New Hanover counties. Individual Assistance can provide federal dollars to individuals to cover temporary housing assistance, lodging expenses reimbursement, home repair, home replacement, housing construction, and funds related to other disaster caused losses and damage.
Public Assistance under FEMA was requested by the governor on Sept. 13 and approved on Oct. 4. This program provides reimbursement to local governments for costs of debris removal, life-saving emergency protective measures and the repair, replacement or restoration of disaster-damaged publicly owned facilities.
Ocracoke’s county commissioner, Tom Pahl, said he was disappointed by the decision noting the impact Dorian has had on individuals on the island. “It hurts the most to be denied by the federal government the kind of assistance other people have received in similar circumstances,” he said.
Pahl said a meeting is scheduled today at 1 p.m. with Hyde County officials and others, including the governor’s office, to see what the next steps will be. The meeting agenda will include discussing an appeal and what state resources would come into play in the absence of the individual assistance by the federal government. “It’s not like we haven’t had these conversations before,” he said. “But with the official denial, we want to have clear commitments and answers.”
Rep. Greg Murphy provided a statement this morning via his press secretary, “I am disappointed to hear that Individual Assistance for Hurricane Dorian has been denied under the requirements set forth in the 1987 Stafford Act. That said we are committed to working with the Governor to explore all avenues, either appeal or seeking a state disaster declaration, that will provide relief to those in need as quickly as possible.”
The denial by FEMA may be appealed within 30 days as of yesterday’s date.
Word spread on social media this morning that ABC News wanted to do a remote interview on how the community was reacting to the Individual Assistance denial. Approximately 100 people showed up. Islanders Stephanie O’Neal, Jason Wells and Tom Pahl expressed their dismay via cell phone and a videographer.
At noon today, Gov. Cooper put out another press release calling on Congress to make critical reforms to long-term federal disaster recovery programs. Governors from Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin sent a letter to Congressional leadership advocating for faster, more efficient help.
As the number of natural disasters lashing our country grows, it is increasingly important to streamline disaster recovery programs to help survivors get the resources they need as quickly as possible, the letter said.
“We need Congress to make important changes to federal disaster recovery programs,” said Cooper. “When a disaster strikes, it doesn’t discriminate between Democrats or Republicans and we need continued bipartisan cooperation to make these common sense recovery changes. The people of North Carolina are a strong and resilient bunch, but we cannot continue to wait on Washington to get necessary aid to disaster survivors.”