Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin and Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo were among a contingent of North Carolina officials who visited the White House on Thursday to discuss with Biden administration officials how the federal government’s spending on coronavirus relief and on construction projects is helping their communities.
These include the American Rescue Plan of 2021 and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, plus the recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act.
Colvin spoke about Fayetteville’s housing and rental assistance programs — “you know we had a tremendous need for that,” he said. “And then the money that we put out for our businesses in terms of grants, over a million dollars distributed for grants within probably a 60 to 90 period of time.”
Colvin said he asked that spending for cities be sent directly to the cities instead of being routed through the state legislature.
With a Republican majority legislature and the metro areas being Democratic voter enclaves that tend to have Democratic lawmakers, Colvin said, the metros often don’t receive assistance money in proportion to their needs.
In Wilmington, Saffo said, the assistance helped his city rebuild homes after Hurricane Florence in 2018. Florence made landfall at neighboring Wrightsville Beach, caused extensive flooding, and heavily damaged the community.
“Well, it’s helped us on affordable housing,” Saffo said of the federal money. About 1,000 homes were destroyed by the storm, he said, and “We were able to build 372 new affordable housing units there in the city.”
Wilmington also provided residents with assistance to pay their rent and utility bills, he said.
Two years after Florence:Hurricane-weary Wilmington was still recovering.
American Rescue Plan Act money is helping Wilmington and New Hanover County address homelessness, Saffo said, to get services to homeless people and to build housing for them.
The meeting included appearances by Douglas Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, and Administrator Michael S. Regan of the Environmental Protection Agency. Regan is from North Carolina and used to head the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.
Associate Professor of History Rob Taber of Fayetteville State University also attended the event. He said it was helpful for smaller towns because administration officials were told that a small town that needs a new sewer system may not have a staff person available to apply for a federal grant to get the money to pay for it.
“I was there to talk about Fayetteville State and the impacts we’ve seen from the American Rescue Plan,” Taber said. The university received $41 million.
The university said it used the money to clear $1.6 million in student debts to the school, allowing 1,200 students to start the semester with no outstanding balances. The school said it also used the money to allow students to attend summer school for free and to upgrade its building and technology infrastructure.
In the wake of the assistance, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this semester we have our highest enrollment ever as we’re helping students stay in school and move toward graduation,” Taber said.
Senior North Carolina reporter Paul Woolverton can be reached at 910-261-4710 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: Have Joe Biden's programs helped Fayetteville and Wilmington NC?