Near-term Sandy recovery should remain untouched

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Karen Frantz

Automatic spending cuts by the federal government that took effect Friday will probably not be felt immediately by Queens residents trying to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy, but may result in less money for long-term city projects if an impasse in Congress is not overcome, two state senators who serve on a Sandy recovery task force said Wednesday.

Members of the state Senate Bipartisan Task Force on Hurricane Sandy met this week and discussed the potential effects of the cuts, known as sequestration, said Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach).

Addabbo, who serves on the task force, said the group came to the general consensus that the impact on recovery efforts will not be apparent right away.

“We don’t believe it has any immediate detrimental effect,” he said.

He said many of the cuts would be to federal programs that would go into effect gradually over several years. He also said the task force believes the community development block grants, passed by Congress in a $60 billion Sandy aid package in January, would not be affected by sequestration.

About $16 billion in community development block grants was approved for the entire region ravaged by the storm in the Sandy aid package. Although the Community Development Fund did receive $965 million in cuts under sequestration, which leaves $18.3 billion in its total fund, it is still not known whether the $16 billion for Sandy will be affected by those cuts, according to a spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said last month that the city plans to spend its initial round of community development block grants for Sandy aid on housing and business recovery and infrastructure resiliency.

About $3 billion was cut from the entire Sandy aid package.

State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis), co-chairman of the task force, also said he believed the community development block grants for Sandy recovery were safe, as are payments from the national flood insurance program.

But he said long-term recovery projects — including those that would protect the city against future storms, such as strengthening electrical systems against power outages — may be affected if Congress does not pass a budget that addresses the across-the-board-cuts. And he said there may be a “trickle down” effect for hurricane victims in terms of federal agency cuts.

Ultimately, he said he did not think it would come to that, but he cautioned it is still early to know exactly how the cuts will play out.

“This is a gray area for all of us,” he said. “We’ve never been through sequestration before.”

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

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