Pols Relieved, But Lament The Wait
After weeks of political wrangling that sparked outrage from Democratic and Republican lawmakers locally, the House of Representatives passed last Tuesday, Jan. 15, a $50 billion disaster relief package to assist the victims of Hurricane Sandy in the Northeastern U.S.
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill during their session this week; as the Times Newsweekly went to press on Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 23, no vote had been taken.
Before the 112th Congress ended its session in December, the Senate had passed a combined $60 billion relief package for Hurricane Sandy victims. However, the House did not get the opportunity to vote on the bill in the waning days of the session, amid the fiscal cliff debate.
Reportedly, House Speaker John Boehner decided not to bring the bill up for a vote. After an outcry from both Democrats and Republicans from the Northeast, the speaker agreed to bring the Sandy aid package up for votes in the new 113th Congress in two separate bills: the $9 billion national flood insurance legislation (which passed on Jan. 4), followed by the $50 billion package, known as the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act.
The bill approved by the House last Tuesday includes funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide food and shelter to storm victims and community development block grants to as- sist local governments in rebuilding housing and infrastructure, as well as spurring economic development.
Also included in the bill is funding for the Army Corps of Engineers, responsible for assisting in rebuilding the shorelines and other infrastructure; and the Small Business Administration, which offers disaster relief loans to homeowners and small businesses. Other agencies received funding to take preemptive steps to reduce damage from future manmade or natural disasters, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service and the Department of Transportation.
In all, 241 members of the House voted for the disaster relief bill, while 180 voted against it. Some of the opponents of the legislation decried a number of the expenditures attached to it as “pork-barrel spending.”
Following House passage of the relief bill, local elected officials across the region issued statements expressing praise over the bill’s approval. Among those applauding its passage were the Governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut- Andrew Cuomo, Chris Christie and Dannel Malloy, respectively-in a joint release.
“We are grateful to those members of Congress who today pulled together in a unified, bipartisan coalition to assist millions of their fellow Americans in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut at their greatest time of need,” according to their statement. “The tradition of Congress being there and providing support for Americans during times of crisis, no matter where they live across this great country, lives on in today’s vote in the House of Representatives.”
“Since Oct. 29, New Yorkers have been working to rebuild homes, businesses and critical infrastructure destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, but we have always known that a full recovery would not be possible without federal aid,” added Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a statement last Tuesday. “Although it has been 11 long weeks since Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast, we are grateful that the House of Representatives has acted on behalf of New Yorkers and others impacted by the storm.”
Others, however, charged that while the bill’s passage was better late than never, it was better never late.
“Seventy nine days after Hurricane Sandy hit our communities, Congress is finally doing what it should have done months ago: taking action,” said Rep. Joseph Crowley. “This bill should have never been tied up in political gamesmanship, but the wait is over, and a muchneeded hand will now be extended to the communities, families and small businesses devastated by Hurricane Sandy.”
“Nearly 80 days after Sandy and much political wrangling, our residents are a step closer to possibly receiving long overdue relief and assistance,” said State Sen. Joseph Addabbo. “I mention ‘possibly’ because I witnessed federal relief funds coming to our state back in 2009 as we received federal stimulus monies and, due to the numerous conditions imposed on the way those funds were to be distributed, it made it quite impossible to allocate the relief where it was needed most.”
Addabbo insisted that the federal relief funds for victims of the hurricane carry “no conditions or strings attached to it by any governmental authority so that those monies can truly help the people, business owners, schools, hospitals, religious institutions and others that need it.”
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder added that “while it was unfortunate we had to wait over two months to get much needed funding, I am pleased to know that we will have the monies necessary to continue helping the home and small business owners of southern Queens and Rockaway.”
“It is going to be a long and slow recovery, but we finally have the tools we need to put the pieces of our lives back together and finally take necessary actions to prepare for the future,” he concluded.