Sandy Disaster Relief May Get Added to Lame-Duck Agenda

Posted November 5, 2012 at 3:05pm

The Senate’s top disaster relief appropriator thinks it is clear Congress will have to approve additional spending to pay for the recovery from Hurricane Sandy.

“There needs to be a supplemental appropriations bill to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy,” an aide to Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said in a statement to Roll Call. “FEMA currently has about $7.1 billion in its Disaster Relief Fund due to Sen. Landrieu’s work to provide robust funding in her role as chair of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. But while FEMA plays the largest role in disaster response, there are other federal agencies with important disaster programs that are not being adequately funded.”

Landrieu comes from a state that has experienced more than its fair share of hurricane and flood damage, including from 2005’s devastating Hurricane Katrina.

The Landrieu aide pointed out that the current continuing resolution funding the government until March 2013 does not provide extra money for the Agriculture, Transportation, or Housing and Urban Development departments or the Army Corps of Engineers. All of those agencies are involved in the disaster response and recovery efforts under way along the East Coast.

Appearing on CNBC, Landrieu criticized GOP leaders for not providing funding for disaster relief in departments and agencies other than the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Agriculture has to show up, Energy has to show up, HUD has to show up,” Landrieu said. “Literally just a few months ago, the Republican leadership in Congress stripped all of the money out of those accounts and left only money in FEMA. Thank goodness there is money in FEMA, but it was a really unfortunate move.”

The calls are increasing for Congress to provide supplemental assistance for the recovery from Hurricane Sandy from both sides of the aisle.

In a letter released today, 44 House Members are calling on Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to support, if needed, additional funds that FEMA may request in the days and weeks ahead. The agency says there are sufficient funds to handle the immediate response, but more money may be required. Eqecat, a company that calculates insurance losses, estimates that total economic damage from Sandy could reach $50 billion.

In their letter, the 44 lawmakers led by Reps. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) urge Boehner and Pelosi to be prepared to move a supplemental during the post-election lame-duck session that kicks off next week, if needed.

“We understand FEMA may have the resources it needs at this time, but as the full brunt of Hurricane Sandy is quantified, Congress must stand ready to provide the aid and assistance to the people and communities most devastated by this storm,” the Members wrote.

Among the signatories on that letter is New Jersey GOP Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, which funds the Army Corps of Engineers.

Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) told the New York Times last week that he expected the $7.1 billion in FEMA disaster reserves could be depleted by the massive cleanup and recovery.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan told reporters today that funding beyond the existing money appropriated for disaster relief and through other programs would require legislation.

“That’s obviously something that will be up to Congress to determine and something that I’m sure will be discussed going forward, but that would be additional aid that would be available above and beyond what might be immediately available under FEMA’s current authority,” Donovan said.

Other departments are actively involved in the relief efforts from the storm that pummeled the Northeast a week ago. New Jersey Democratic Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez announced today that the Transportation Department would send 350 buses from private motor coach operators to New Jersey to help New Jersey Transit get commuters around as they deal with gas shortages and diminished rail capacity.

“The buses being dispatched to New Jersey by the federal government will add much needed capacity so that residents can go to work, reach their families, buy groceries, and resume their daily lives,” Lautenberg said. “As we continue working to make gas accessible, these buses will give residents another transportation option.”