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Boro senators serve on Sandy recovery task force

Debris covers the beach near Beach 102nd Street in Rockaway last month.
TimesLedger Newspapers

Several state senators from Queens and elsewhere in New York have formed a task force to help communities devastated by Superstorm Sandy get back on their feet.

The group, known as the Bipartisan Senate Task Force for Hurricane Sandy Recovery, will tour areas of the city hit hardest by the storm and will make recommendations to Gov. Andrew Cuomo about how and where to best spend federal and state recovery aid.

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), who was tapped to serve on the task force and whose district suffered extensive damage, said it will give his constituents an important say in how the aid will be spent.

“The task force was really formed to be the ear for the community,” he said.

The tours will include meetings with residents, business owners and other community stakeholders, who will give their views on what they need to return to normalcy, although Addabbo stressed that constituents could reach out with their suggestions at any time.

“People should not wait for a town hall. They should understand that they can give input to their elected officials at any moment,” he said.

The task force’s first gathering was in the Rockaways Dec. 10, when members toured the decimated boardwalk area as well as the beach front and met with leaders from the Queens Library and other people affected by the storm.

Addabbo said among the specific ideas gathered from the tour were focusing on job creation, individual financial assistance and strengthening infrastructure. A statement from his office also cited the need for mold removal, improving the city’s Rapid Repairs program, temporary housing and being more prepared for future emergencies, among other issues.

“What we’re hearing is that these federal dollars should be used to help us get back on our feet,” said Addabbo, adding that people said they need help both now and in the long term.

In addition to Addabbo, state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) and City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton), who will be serving in the state Senate in January, were tapped to be on the task force, which also includes seven other senators representing areas that took the brunt of the storm.

Addabbo said he expects a task force report will go to Cuomo in the early part of 2013, around the time when the state budget will be negotiated.

He said he is hoping aid from the federal government does not come with many strings attached, the way federal stimulus money did in 2009. He said the conditions attached to the stimulus left the state with little flexibility in how to spend the funds.

“We couldn’t utilize that federal stimulus money to really do what we needed to do as a state,” he said.

President Barack Obama is asking Congress to approve a special appropriation of $60 billion to help coastal communities in New York and elsewhere rebuild after Sandy, which the U.S. Senate began debating this week.

But some on Capitol Hill are balking at the cost at a time when the nation is still grappling with a soaring deficit and are worried about wasteful spending in the package.

So far more than $1 billion has already been distributed to 162,000 families by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to 162,000 families, the New York Times reported.

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

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