House passes $51 billion Sandy relief package
The House of Representatives approved $51 billion in Hurricane Sandy aid, with South Jersey lawmakers speaking on the floor in support of the measures that passed Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
The aid package consumed hours of debate before finally being approved at about 7:30 p.m.
“To my colleagues who are from states who have disasters who have decided we need to change the rules of the game — shame on you,” Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-Atlantic, said during the floor debate.
The first part of the bill approved $17 billion in emergency funding to address immediate needs of those affected by Sandy. The second part, proposed by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., authorized an additional $33.5 billion in spending. That measure passed by a vote of 228 to 192.
South Jersey lawmakers criticized their colleagues for acting too slowly on the aid package.
“Almost three months later and my constituents continue to suffer,” Rep. Jon Runyan, R-N.J., said on the House floor.
Earlier this month, local officials lashed out against the House Republican leadership, saying they were betrayed when Congress failed to hold a vote on aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy as their term ended Jan. 3.
Tuckerton Mayor George "Buck" Evans said the small borough, known as a working class fishing and boating town, is facing astronomical costs for storm-related damage that could financially cripple the town. The help needs to come now, he said.
Tuckerton's total disaster damage estimate came in at $3.6 million, just under the current operating budget of $3.9 million. Evans said he and other officials are already bracing for $2 million in revenue losses in taxes after hundreds of homes were destroyed in the Tuckerton Beach section.
Only about 50 people have returned to living in the Tuckerton Beach section, where there had been 660 homes, Evans said.
Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora said waiting on funding from the federal government has been frustrating now that 70 days has passed since Hurricane Sandy struck the region. Gov. Chris Christie, who had harsh words for Congress earlier this month for failing to vote on the bill, will visit Stafford for a town hall Wednesday, and Spodofora expects the Hurricane Sandy dialogue to continue. The township is looking at least $20 million in damage costs.
"This has been so frustrating to wait because so many people have been waiting to do things and rebuild their lives, and I just don't know what to tell them," Spodofora said. "My primary objective right now is to try and get these people back in their homes, and the people who need to rebuild, to make sure they have proper standards to follow."
On Long Beach Island's 18 miles there was about $1 billion worth of damage following Hurricane Sandy, and the area needed help yesterday, officials said. Officials said the storm-related damage in Long Beach Township is estimated to be about $500 million.
"We had a caucus meeting this morning and there's a lot of stuff we have to continue to do to rebuild that is predicated by the funding they are voting on tonight,” Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini said Tuesday. “The bottom line is that LBI is going to be fine for the Memorial Day weekend. We're all moving forward, but the infrastructure of the bay and beach replenishment needs to be addressed in this funding."
During the House debate, some Republicans attempted to modify the aid package, saying they believed some of the proposed spending fell outside of emergency appropriations, or they sought budget offsets to pay for the amounts.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., proposed recouping $17 billion in spending through a 1.6 percent across the board cut to all federal discretionary appropriations, including for domestic and military programs. His amendment was eventually voted down.
“A tragedy (such) as Hurricane Sandy shouldn’t be used as an excuse for a grab bag of spending,” said Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif. “Republicans were supposed to change how things are done. Clearly we have not.”
Other attempts scored victories, such as an amendment proposed by Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, to remove $150 million for Regional Ocean Partnership grants. That measure passed by a vote of 221 to 197.
Another proposed by Rep. John Fleming, R-La., also succeeded in lopping off $9.8 million the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service had slated for the rebuilding of seawalls and buildings on uninhabited islands in the Stewart McKinney National Wildlife Refuge in Connecticut. That amendment passed by a vote of 216-205.
An amendment put forward by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, which prohibits the secretaries of Interior or Agriculture from purchasing any additional federal land, also passed by a vote of 223 to 189. The measure would allow money to be used for repair and restoration projects rather than land acquisition, Bishop said.
Other proposals didn’t fare as well, including one to trim $13 million in National Weather Service ground readiness project funding. That failed by a vote of 214 to 206.
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