Fed storm aid funds released for city use

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Karen Frantz

Queens residents whose homes and business were decimated by Hurricane Sandy may soon start to get help from the federal storm aid package with new city plans for spending an initial allocation of $1.77 billion in grants.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Wednesday that he plans to spend the aid on housing, business and infrastructure needs through eight new city programs.

“These funds will help New Yorkers who were the hardest hit by Sandy get back on their feet and help communities build back stronger and smarter,” said Bloomberg.

The funds are the first installment to be parsed out from a $51 billion aid package the U.S. Congress approved last month. About $5 billion was released in total Wednesday, with $1.71 billion in aid also going to the state.

Under Bloomberg’s proposal, grant programs would be set up for homeowners and business owners. Some loan programs for businesses would also be expanded. And race to the top-style competitions would be launched in which grants would be awarded for ideas for making utilities more resilient or for spurring economic growth in damaged neighborhoods.

Bloomberg said the proposals would need federal approval and he expects they would be implemented starting in late April or early May.

Meanwhile, a state Senate task force that includes several elected officials from Queens and was formed to make recommendations on storm recovery, is advocating for speeding up insurance claim processing, providing some businesses with direct grants to rebuild and developing licensing and certification procedures for workers involved in mold cleanup in a preliminary report released Monday.

The Senate Bipartisan Task Force on Hurricane Sandy’s report comes as Albany is starting the state budget process and its recommendations are expected to serve as a guideline for allocating state and federal aid.

“Whether it be the residents or business owners, many people are seeking assistance from the federal funding coming to our state,” said Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) who sits on the task force and whose district was devastated by Sandy. “This report provides an initial road map on how to provide that assistance.”

The task force was launched three months ago and is made up of 10 senators representing some of the hardest-hit regions in the state. In addition to Addabbo, two senators from the borough, Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) and James Sanders (D-Jamaica), were tapped to serve on the task force.

The preliminary report also included recommendations on protecting against future storms. Suggestions included using soft barriers as a way to mitigate against storm damage and strengthening the state’s gas distribution system so first responders and other critical service providers are prioritized for fueling their vehicles.

The task force is expected to make its final recommendations to Gov. Andrew Cuomo about how and where to best spend recovery aid in the coming weeks.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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