House approves aid for hurricane relief

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
By Steve Mosco

The political tempest stalling hurricane aid to parts of Queens and the Northeast subsided Tuesday night when the U.S. House of Representatives approved disaster relief to Sandy victims.

The U.S. Senate is expected to accept the $50.7 million measure early next week and send it to President Barack Obama for approval, but many of the borough’s elected officials blasted the House for engaging in partisan gamesmanship.

“Despite the roadblocks and inexcusable delays, the House finally did the right thing by approving this critical funding,” said Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing). “It’s been 2 1/2 months since Hurricane Sandy hammered our region, and thousands of New Yorkers continue to suffer from the devastation. Now, they will finally receive the relief that they have desperately needed. The battle we had to fight to secure this aid was outrageous. But I’m pleased that the money will finally start to head our way.”

House officials approved the bill in a 241-180 vote — with 49 Republicans joining 192 Democrats in support of the bill, while 179 Republicans and one Democrat stood in opposition. The lone Democrat to register a nay vote was Rep. Jim Cooper, of Tennessee.

Elected officials from the devastated region criticized the House’s response to disaster relief, pointing out that victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 received aid less than two weeks after the storm with overwhelming bipartisan support. Katrina aid passed 410-11 in the House and 97-0 in the Senate.

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), who sharply criticized House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) for canceling the initial House vote before Congress wrapped up its last session Jan. 1, said Superstorm Sandy victims could finally move toward recovery.

“After an unnecessarily long delay, the House has finally passed a bill to provide the essential aid Superstorm Sandy victims need to recover,” he said. “The Eastern Seaboard has waited for far too long for this vital assistance, but I welcome the bipartisan support we saw tonight in the House.”

The aid package includes funding to repair transit systems in New York and New Jersey and for housing and other needs in the affected area. Additional funds would go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for disaster relief, while other funds are ticketed for restoration of highways damaged or destroyed in the storm.

House officials approved a $9.7 million relief bill Jan. 3 to enable FEMA to pay out claims to those victims who have federal flood insurance.

As for how to distribute the relief funds, state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said the aid must have no conditions or strings attached to it by any government authority so it can go to the people, business owners, schools, hospitals and religious institutions that need it most.

“I am optimistic that once the U.S. Senate votes to approve the Sandy relief next week, the elected officials and residents can work together to identify areas requiring assistance and get the funds there in a quick manner without jeopardizing transparency and accountability,” he said.

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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