Lawmakers to vote on Sandy aid after GOP reversal
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A $60 billion relief package for victims of superstorm Sandy isn't dead -- it will just take a bit longer than people in the Hudson Valley's devastated communities had hoped.
After furious New York lawmakers criticized House Republican leaders for adjourning Tuesday night's fiscal cliff session without voting on the anticipated relief package, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) assuaged their anger Wednesday by promising to put the relief package up for vote.
The first vote to approve $9 billion in flood insurance funding is slated for Friday, and Congress will vote on the larger $51 billion aid package Jan. 15.
Lawmakers to vote on Sandy aid after GOP reversal
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Representatives who leveled sharp criticism at Boehner earlier issued cautiously optimistic responses late Wednesday. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Harrison), who represents flood-damaged communities in Westchester and Rockland counties, said she would hold Boehner to his word.
"While passing emergency disaster relief should have been completed before the end of the 112th Congress, it is good to learn of House Republican leadership's commitment to make Sandy victims the first priority of the 113th Congress," Lowey wrote in a statement. "Now that this commitment to consider the full supplemental appropriations package has been made, I will continue working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure it is kept."
Long Island Rep. Peter King, a Republican who also represents areas devastated by the superstorm, was among Boehner's most vocal critics Tuesday and early Wednesday, but he backed off after the speaker pledged to bring the aid package to vote.
"That's in the past. What's important, as far as I'm concerned, we got the absolute commitment to bring the whole $60 billion beginning on Friday and concluding on Jan. 15," King said.
The much-anticipated relief package is expected to include funds for damaged infrastructure in the Hudson Valley and New York City, as well as relief for individuals -- people whose homes, cars and property were damaged or destroyed in the superstorm.
Much of that money will go to communities like Piermont and Stony Point. In Piermont, the storm destroyed an entire waterfront, sending boats flying inland and ravaging the town's business district in addition to dozens of homes. In Stony Point, families remained in community shelters more than two months after the storm's path of destruction claimed their homes.
That's why local representatives, who toured the devastated areas for days and weeks following the storm, leveled particularly sharp criticism Tuesday night at Boehner and GOP lawmakers, who didn't provide a reason why they failed to vote on the relief package.
"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," Cuomo said earlier Wednesday.
The Senate approved a $60.4 billion measure Friday to aid recovery efforts in devastated parts of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and other states. The House Appropriations Committee drafted a less ambitious $27 billion measure.
Originally, Cuomo requested $41 billion in aid for New York State, which included $9.8 billion requested by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Matt Dennis, a spokesman for Lowey, said the relief funds are crucial to recovery in the Hudson Valley.
"There are transit accounts -- the MTA, bridges and tunnels -- and disaster relief to individual homeowners that suffered losses," he said. "Without having appropriated this money, these people are left in a lurch. People can't undertake rebuilding because they don't know what assistance they'll get from the federal government."
Nyack Mayor Jen White said the delay has hurt the village, which has yet to see any aid money.
"This is not only frustrating but confusing," she said. "Nyack has people without homes and businesses that are struggling to recover. This should not be a partisan issue but simply a human issue."
More than $2 billion in federal funds has been spent so far on relief efforts for 11 states and the District of Columbia that were struck by the storm, one of the worst ever to hit the Northeast. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund still has about $4.3 billion, enough to pay for recovery efforts into early spring, according to officials.
Sandy was blamed for at least 120 deaths and battered coastline areas from North Carolina to Maine. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, however, were the hardest-hit states and suffered high winds, flooding and storm surges. The storm damaged or destroyed more than 72,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey. In New York, 305,000 housing units were damaged or destroyed and more than 265,000 businesses were affected.
With Tom Brune and The Associated Press