After 'betrayal,' Congress sets votes Friday and Jan. 15 on help for Sandy victims
Officials expressed betrayal Wednesday about the failure of House Republican leadership to hold a vote on aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy on Tuesday night.
Unconscionable, unbelievable, inexcusable and unprecedented were among the reactions in South Jersey and across the state.
The response came as legislators scrambled to make something happen Wednesday with Congress’ term ending today. The pressure eventually resulted in votes scheduled for this Friday on flood insurance funding and for Jan. 15 on the main relief package.
U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo joined his New Jersey and New York colleagues on the floor of the House on Wednesday morning in an attempt to bring the bill to a vote.
“This is a disaster on a disaster, and every minute we lose makes it harder for us to not be in a position to recover for the summer season. I don’t know if I’ve ever been this angry about anything before,” LoBiondo said later in an interview with The Press of Atlantic City.
“This isn’t about people getting a suntan. This is about a $40 billion tourism industry facing a devastating blow. People are not going to spend their money and come to vacation in a place that has not been rebuilt,” he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Chris Christie spoke on television and said Americans are tired of the “palace intrigue” and political partisanship of this Congress, which places one-upsmanship ahead of the lives of citizens.
New Jerseyeans and New Yorkers are tired of being treated like second-class citizens, Christie said.
“Sixty-six days and counting. Shame on you. Shame on Congress,” he said.
In a meeting with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., Wednesday afternoon, LoBiondo and members of the New Jersey and New York delegations were granted a full House vote this Friday on $9 billion for the National Flood Insurance Program along with a vote on the remaining $51 billion Jan. 15. The package crafted by LoBiondo and his colleagues will be stripped of extraneous spending for states not affected by the storm and then be sent to the Senate for approval, a release said.
In the days following Hurricane Katrina, Congress abandoned all regular order and within 10 days $60 billion was dispersed for relief and no one asked about procedure, LoBiondo said.
“We now have people from those states who we stepped up to bat for telling us about rules and that we’re moving too fast. How many times have these other states come to us after a disaster for help?” he said.
LoBiondo said he and fellow legislators were promised that if they met a series of criteria, which they did, they would have had a vote.
“Initially they demanded from New Jersey, New York and New York City an incredibly detailed explanation of what we were asking for in detail of the dollars,” he said.
“We worked to get it and submitted it. ... I was told over and over again that we had everything we needed,” he said.
On Tuesday night, it was decided that a vote on Sandy relief funding would come after the fiscal cliff vote.
“At 11 p.m., they came to us, and we were told it wasn’t happening and with no explanation,” LoBiondo said.
Boehner then refused to meet with legislators and released an announcement that there would be no vote on the hurricane relief bill, LoBiondo said.
“Then I had to call the governor at midnight and explain how all this work was down the tubes,” LoBiondo said.
Boehner and Cantor said in a statement Wednesday that getting critical aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy “should be the first priority in the new Congress and that was reaffirmed today with members of the New York and New Jersey delegations.”
Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a joint statement issued Wednesday that “the people of our states can no longer afford to wait while politicians in Washington play games.”
“When American citizens are in need, we come to their aid. That tradition was abandoned in the House last night,” the news release stated.
The two governors called the House’s inaction “inexcusable” and “unprecedented,” noting that lawmakers have had President Obama’s aid proposal for 27 days.
Tuckerton Mayor George “Buck” Evans said costs are tremendous for debris removal and storm-related damage.
FEMA estimated that the borough’s total damage was $3.6 million. Officials estimated revenue losses through taxes of about $2 million after hundreds of homes were destroyed in the Tuckerton Beach section. The borough operates on a $3.9 million budget.
Long Beach Township Mayor Joe Mancini said Long Beach Island collectively had about $1 billion worth of damage as a result of the storm and needed help yesterday. His township alone is projecting storm-related damages of about $500 million.
Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson called the failure to vote on the funding absolutely appalling, considering the billions of dollars in damage and human misery that came with Sandy.
In Brigantine, cleanup continues after the storm, residents remain displaced and with a feeling of disbelief Mayor Phil Guenther said this was not the news his community needed.
“This is truly unconscionable they would not act, that Congress would (leave) the residents of the New Jersey coast with a tremendous amount of uncertainty of how they will rebuild,” Guenther said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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