ELIZABETHTOWN — Brian Jeremiah, a FEMA Intergovernmental Affairs representative, visited with Bladen County Manager Greg Martin on Friday to talk about the agency’s Public Assistance Hazard Mitigation Grant program, the monies from which were recently frozen by FEMA for applicants after Hurricane Matthew.
Bladen County, according to Martin, had about 53 applicants for assistance through the program and eight were approved by FEMA for either a full buyout, elevating or rebuilding of a residence. Statewide, where about 3,000 homeowners applied for the program, 800 homes were approved through the grant program.
But on the heels of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana, followed by Hurricane Irma in Florida, FEMA was recently forced to put funding for North Carolina on hold and move those funds to more pressing needs.
Although Jeremiah didn’t want to talk on the record, Martin said his feeling from Friday’s meeting was that the frozen funds would soon be thawing.
“I think we’re going to see the program back on track sometime in October,” Martin said. “His main concern was that people shouldn’t get nervous and look elsewhere for help — those approved will get help soon.”
Gov. Roy Cooper visited Robeson County on Thursday in an effort to see the progress after Hurricane Matthew had devastated the county’s infrastructure and numerous residences and businesses. He did not, however, come to Bladen County, where the storm on Oct. 8, 2016, also damaged numerous roads, homes and businesses.
“Help can never come soon enough for a victim of a hurricane,” Cooper told The Fayetteville Observer. “We’re going to be looking to Congress and the General Assembly for additional funding down the road to help those people who have not been helped yet …”
David Mace, media specialist for FEMA, said he wasn’t directly aware of when the program’s funding would be released, but did say they funding freeze was temporary and that initial work on those projects continued.
“The reason for the temporary freeze is what FEMA calls Immediate Needs Funding,” he said. “That just means the assistance is more immediate for those in Texas and Florida.”
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.