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Obama signs storm relief bill as Queens slams slow aid pace

Burned-out Breezy Point will finally get some federal aid, but some officials say it is not enough. AP Photo/Mike Groll
TimesLedger Newspapers

Queens elected officials expressed outrage that Congress has stalled on approving the $60 billion in funds needed to begin the serious recovery from Hurricane Sandy but welcomed the scaled-back aid bill members of the House passed before returning home last weekend.

President Barack Obama signed the relief package into law Sunday two days after the House approved a $9.7 billion bill to pay flood insurance claims from the October superstorm.

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), whose district was devastated by the storm, said before the bill was passed relief for Hurricane Katrina victims in 2005 was doled out in a far more timely fashion.

“Take a look at the money given out after other tragedies like Hurricane Katrina,” Addabbo said. “Sandy relief is seriously lagging behind.”

It took Congress more than two months to sign off on Sandy relief, but after Hurricane Katrina thrashed the Gulf Coast in August 2005, it took only 10 days for federal aid to be approved for that disaster, according to U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)

“I want my colleagues to remember that 10 days after Hurricane Katrina, this chamber passed two separate bills amounting to $60 billion,” Menendez said on the Senate floor last week. “It has been nearly two months since we had Superstorm Sandy and nothing has passed.”

The $9.7 billion House bill was approved by a 354-67 vote — with all 67 nay votes coming from Republicans.

Addabbo said residents who suffered destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy’s high winds and storm surge deserve the same kind of relief afforded to victims of hurricanes past.

“The people affected by the storm, they needed the money yesterday, they needed it eight weeks ago,” he said. “There are some issues with the details of the bill, some political and some fiscal. But all those reasons don’t outweigh the need for residents to get the assistance they need. Politics should never come before the people and their needs.”

A vote on the larger $60.4 billion aid package was canceled just before Congress wrapped up its last session Jan. 1, landing House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in hot water with New York and New Jersey officials. Lawmakers in the new Congress who were sworn in last Thursday will meet on the remaining $51 million in aid Jan. 15.

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) said he was pleased the bill passed but was weary of the political battle over what he hopes will be more aid.

“This action, however, is woefully insufficient in addressing the significant concerns and needs of millions affected by last fall’s storm,” he said. “I hope sincerely that the Republican leadership honors its commitment to holding a vote on the rest of disaster relief funding on Jan. 15, for we must act swiftly to ensure millions do not continue to suffer under the yoke of partisanship.”

Meanwhile, City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) sent letters to Boehner and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) last week, calling for the passage of a new, pork-free bill to provide nothing but relief for storm victims.

Halloran’s letters criticized the Senate-drafted relief bill, which he said contains more than $20 million in spending not directly related to Sandy damage, including funding for fisheries in Alaska, tree planting in Ohio and improvements to the Kennedy Space Center.

“Both Republicans and Democrats have played a dangerous game with our citizens’ money and it’s one we can ill afford to continue,” he said. “It’s time for a real change. We need a relief bill that’s about relief and nothing else.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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