When Congress approved $9.7 billion for flood insurance claims from Superstorm Sandy victims on Jan. 4, government and construction-industry officials from areas hardest hit by the powerful late-October hurricane viewed the vote as a positive move. But they also insisted that those funds need to be supplemented—and soon—by an additional $50 billion to rebuild damaged infrastructure and construct defenses against future natural disasters.
The $9.7-billion measure, which President Obama signed on Jan. 6, "is a good first step, but we need the remainder of the aid to be passed," says Lou Coletti, president and CEO of New York's Building Trades Employers' Association. He adds, "We've got major national contractors, large-scale contractors and smaller contractors who are performing all this work in the 'Rapid Repairs' program, and they need to be paid."
Under Rapid Repairs, New York City sends contractors to restore heat, power and hot water and make other "limited" emergency fixes to Sandy-battered homes and to stave off further damages. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is to reimburse the city for most of its expenses.
New York and New Jersey lawmakers and other state officials hoped Congress would approve a much bigger package, totaling $60.4 billion, by about Jan. 2.
The Senate had cleared a $60.4-billion Sandy aid bill on Dec. 28. But House Republican leaders infuriated governors and congressional delegations from New Jersey and New York when they delayed a vote on a Sandy recovery measure until the 113th Congress, which convened Jan. 3.
One of the most vociferous critics, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), called the delay "disgraceful … indefensible … and immoral." In a joint statement, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) blasted the GOP leadership move as "a dereliction of duty." Critics of the bill say it contained too much pork.
After House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) met with King and other critics on Jan. 2 and promised a Jan. 4 vote on the $9.7 billion and Jan. 15 action on additional aid, they relented. If the House does clear the other $50 billion, a Senate vote is expected in the week of Jan. 21. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that addressing a Sandy bill will be one of his first actions when the Senate returns.
Coletti says that if there is a delay in funding, or the money approved is insufficient, "Either the city will be unable to recapture 100% of its cost, which means they'll go to the contractor and say, 'We'll give you 50 cents on the dollar for work you performed,' or the contractor won't get paid at all." Industry officials are concerned, Coletti says, that the many local contractors working on Sandy recovery may not get paid in a reasonable time if the larger aid package is not approved.
The House is expected to take up two bills Jan. 15. The first, totaling about $17 billion, would provide emergency relief to storm victims and funds for near-term repairs. The second bill, totaling $33 billion, would fund longer-term reconstruction and storm protection. A Cuomo-established panel has issued recommendations for long-range protective measures (p. 13).
Matt Dennis, a spokesman for Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), says he is hopeful that the House will pass both measures. "We are working very hard to make sure that happens," he says.