- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 1, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Gov. Pat McCrory said Tuesday he expects to call lawmakers to a special session next month on Hurricane Matthew relief for eastern North Carolina, looking to Congress for supplemental aid first and developing policy based on recommendations from committees his administration created.

Addressing the first meeting of one panel assigned to examine the damage and pinpoint unmet needs, McCrory and other administration officials told participants the actual recovery will be long and hard.

“It won’t be a sprint. It will be a marathon,” said McCrory Chief of Staff Thomas Stith, who is also the panel’s chairman.

The storm raked the eastern half of the state 3½ weeks ago, dumping up to 17 inches of rain and leading to record flooding along rivers and in the towns and cities adjoining them. Authorities said there were 28 storm-related deaths. While federal damage assessments are continuing, state officials earlier estimated $1.5 billion in damage to 100,000 homes, businesses and government buildings. That doesn’t count agricultural losses.

“Our state has gone through a very traumatic, violent and emotional disaster,” McCrory told the Hurricane Matthew Recovery Committee, but “now we need to reinvent ourselves on how do we recover from this.”

McCrory laid out a plan that in which the bipartisan committee - comprised of elected leaders, business people, government officials and citizens - would tour hard-hit areas. In early December the panel would fashion recommendations for recovery assistance that wouldn’t be covered with existing funds. A separate panel of emergency management officials would consider more technical issues related to federal and state assistance and address immediate needs.

The governor said he would turn in the state’s request for federal disaster assistance on Nov. 14 and wait for Congress to approve it. The state would have to provide matching funds and cover items not included in supplemental federal funds. McCrory said he envisioned calling a special legislative session for early December, although the date could move up depending on the speed of Congress.

“I am confident that we’ll be able to recover and rebuild even stronger than what we had before in many of these areas impacted,” he said.

The General Assembly likely would be asked to create state recovery programs and permit spending from the state’s reserve fund, now close to $1.6 billion. Laws also would be amended to exempt some schools from the required minimum number of days or instructional hours they must be open.

State Budget Director Drew Heath told the committee the state has enough disaster funds to meet immediate needs through January, when the legislature convenes its two-year session. But McCrory told reporters waiting until then to act would hamper long-term recovery planning.

The governor said he wanted the recovery committee to raise private and corporate funds to address permanent housing and small business aid. State officials said 250 people are still in shelters and more than 1,500 displaced households are still living in hotels.

The committee’s members include former Gov. Beverly Perdue, ex-McCrory budget director Art Pope and current University of North Carolina system President Margaret Spellings.


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