Southeast community leaders and clergy members joined Congressmember Gregory Meeks at the first meeting for the new 5th Congressional District.
Having not met since before Sandy, Meeks and the crowd of over 100 area residents spoke about the devastation brought on by the storm, as well as the Congressmember’s work in Washington, D.C. since reclaiming his House seat after the November election.
“The spirit of hope is among all folks,” he said. “[People] have come together like never before to say, ‘We are going to get back on our feet better than ever.’”
Meeks noted the significance of having a second Obama administration, explained the fiscal cliff, acknowledged the tragedy in Newtown, the looming sequester and federal aid for Sandy victims.
“[Sandy] didn’t just hit Democrats, it didn’t just hit Republicans, it hit and hurt everybody. Politics had no need to be in this game,” he said.
Getting the federal aid to disaster-stricken areas took an “unprecedented” three months, but now roughly $60 billion is allocated, hopefully coming sooner rather than later.
Meeks mentioned a number of “coming battles” this spring, including raising the debt limit, immigration reform, keeping student loan interest rates low, gun control and avoiding the sequester.
The sequester, a legislative tactic that proposes across-the-board cuts on federal spending, was initiated to get a bipartisan agreement on the House budget. The proposed cut, $85 billion annually, will last for 10 years if there is no agreement.
Cuts in New York State will fall heaviest on the city, Nassau and Suffolk Counties, according to Meeks. This includes losing over $40 million in funding for education, nearly $13 million for pollution protection, $108 million for army services and more. It could also affect roughly 750,000 public sector jobs – many filled largely in part by southeast residents.
“We have to make sacrifices on both sides [to come to an] agreement,” said Meeks. “We can’t balance the budget simply on the backs of the middle class and the poor. We have to look and prioritize our spending.”
“We’ve got a lot of serious issues that we have to deal with that are going to have major ramifications on our communities across the board,” he added. “Everyone is going to pay a price.”