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Thursday, January 03, 2013

Fiscal cliff averted, but no Sandy disaster relief for Eastern states



The House will vote Friday on a $9.7 billion measure to fund the National Flood Insurance Program, then will act two weeks later on an additional $50.3 billion in disaster relief for victims of Superstorm Sandy, House Republicans said Wednesday, reported in the Detroit Free Press.
BY Dava Castillo
Republican Rep. Pete King of New York said the package will add up to the approximately $60 billion in disaster aid sought by Northeast states in the Oct. 29 storm.
Boehner’s decision to pull the bill from the economic package prompted Republican and Democratic lawmakers from New Jersey and New York to blast him in angry Congressional floor speeches.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said today that the measure to fund the Flood Insurance was urgently needed as they would run out of money on Monday.
Nearly 140,000 flooding claims related to Sandy have been filed so far, and $1.7 billion has been paid out. A delay in action by Congress would delay payments on more than 115,000 claims, FEMA said in a statement Wednesday.
"The people’s lives who are devastated here are very real,” Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo said Wednesday. "This is not something in the abstract.”
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New Jersey’s congressional delegation is furious that aid for damage from the Sandy storm that ravished the East Coast was not voted on as part of the economic package passed by both houses of Congress yesterday.
A writer for The Moderate Voice says, “They are angry—and determined.”
“How is it possible that this has become a political issue?” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th District) said angrily, from the House floor this morning. “I have never seen anything like it.”
“This is not about people in Congress – this is about constituents whose lives are ruined,” added Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-2nd District).
It’s a disaster dealing with a disaster,” said LoBiondo, who represents the southern coast of New Jersey, which was devastated by the October storm. “To say I’m angry and disappointed would be an understatement.”
“It was a total shock – a commitment had been made,” added Pallone, who represents the northern part of the shore. “The issue wasn’t whether it would come up – it was when it would come up. There was no explanation.”
“It’s time to take the gloves off, Jersey-style,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8th District).
New Jersey delegates want to reconvene the House to force a vote on billions of dollars in aid to the states that were devastated by the October storm, which by some accounts were equal to Hurricane Katrina in terms of miles. Katrina covered over 300 miles, but Sandy covered a swath of almost 900 miles sweeping the eastern states.
A meeting is scheduled for 3 p.m. EST today with House leaders to discuss the aid legislation.
Members from New Jersey and others are pushing today to reconvene the House to get a vote on billions in aid to the areas most devastated by the October storm. If the House does not vote on this now, the process with have to start anew in both houses of Congress when the new Congress convenes, which means more delays in expediting relief.
The Senate version of the aid package was $60 billion, but the House Republicans scaled it back to $27 billion. The New Jersey delegates are pushing hard to keep the original amount of $60 billion.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York both criticized the House for not recognizing the urgency of relief aid in a statement today.
"With all that New York and New Jersey and our millions of residents and small businesses have suffered and endured, this continued inaction and indifference by the House of Representatives is inexcusable," the governors said. "This failure to come to the aid of Americans following a severe and devastating natural disaster is unprecedented."
Opinion
The Congress continues to play politics with disaster relief by not including aid in the bill yesterday. Attempts to balance the budget by ignoring the critical needs of those who suffered from Hurricane Sandy is an embarrassment to the nation.
At the beginning of December a Republican Congressman called Sandy relief “wasteful spending,” according to thinkprogress.
Mitt Romney and House Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) have been reluctant to provide federal assistance in the past to areas hit by deadly disasters, like the tornadoes in the Midwest, the earthquake in Virginia and Hurricane Sandy. Their demands cited that relief funding be offset by spending cuts in other areas.
No one doubts the need for a balanced approach to the national budget, but accomplishing it to the detriment of American citizens who have been through hell with disasters is not the way.
An update of the results of today’s meeting will be issued today. Let’s hope reasonable minds prevail.
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