North Carolina official: 'We would be safer' if feds stopped withholding disaster aid

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Trump officials are withholding tens of billions in disaster aid, which could have helped North Carolina residents more safely weather Hurricane Dorian.

Trump administration officials are sitting on billions and billions of dollars for disaster aid and recovery that could make communities safer, the New York Times reported Thursday.

Of the $107 billion Congress gave Trump's administration to help communities recover from hurricanes, wildfires, and other disasters in 2017 and 2018, Trump officials have only spent about $34 billion as of June 30, or less than a third of fund available. That leaves roughly $70 billion left unspent.

The money is intended for communities to fix roads, improve infrastructure (such as drainage systems), and even elevate houses in low-lying areas prone to flooding. Instead, the money sits with agencies like FEMA, unspent, which makes communities less safe.

"If we had all the money, and everything was flowing, we would be safer," Laura Hogshead, chief operating officer for the Office of Recovery and Resiliency in North Carolina, told the Times. "There's a lot of suffering while you wait," she added.

The topic of disaster relief is especially relevant in North Carolina, where Hurricane Dorian made landfall Friday morning. As of Friday morning, CBS News reports that almost 350,000 homes and businesses in North and South Carolina are without power.

Most of the unspent disaster relief money resides with FEMA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. In fact, HUD was allocated $37 billion but has spent only $75 million, or a mere 0.2%, on disaster relief.

Disaster experts told the Times that some delays are unavoidable because of complex reporting and regulatory systems set up by both Congress and state agencies. However, there are still "opportunities to make the recovery process faster at every level," Marion McFadden, a former HUD official in the Obama administration, told the Times. "We've got to fix this."

Climate change is making disasters both more frequent and more costly, according to experts. Yet the Trump administration continues to both deny the reality of climate change and downplay the impacts.

With a year-round wildfire season in California and bigger, deadlier hurricanes battering the East Coast, disasters are impacting more and more Americans.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is sitting on tens of billions of dollars that could help communities recover from disaster and prepare for the next one.

Published with permission of The American Independent.