New Jersey officials are blasting the House's Republican leadership over its failure to hold a vote on aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy, even as Congress' term ends Thursday.
"The people of our states can no longer afford to wait while politicians in Washington play games," said New Jersey Gov. Chis Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in a joint statement issued Wednesday.
"When American citizens are in need we come to their aid. That tradition was abandoned in the House last night," the press 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.
"The fact that days continue to go by while people suffer, families are out of their homes, and men and women remain jobless and struggling during these harsh winter months is a dereliction of duty,” the statement read. “ When American citizens are in need we come to their aid. That tradition was abandoned in the House last night."
Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-2) joined his New Jersey and New York colleagues on the floor of the House 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 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 devastating blow. People are not going to spend their money and come to vacation in a place that has not been rebuilt,” he said.
LoBiondo said he and fellow legislators were promised that if they met a series of criteria, which they did, they would have 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. We were told initially they couldn’t proceed without all of the information and we worked to get it and submitted it. This was all down to minutia. I was told over and over again that we had everything we needed,” he said.
Tuesday night, it was decided that a vote on Sandy relief funding would come after the fiscal cliff vote, but by 11 p.m., LoBiondo said he started to worry.
“I got nervous when we could not get an additional meeting. At 11 p.m., they came to us and we were told it wasn’t happening and with no explanation,” LoBiondo said.
Speaker of the House Republican U.S. Rep. John 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. We promised our constituents and mayors and we did everything we were supposed to do and without any explanation this was pulled,” LoBiondo 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, he 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 and all of a sudden we’re held to another standard and our constituents are not as important as others who have faced disasters,” he said.
He said he would like to bring these members of Congress to communities like Long Beach Island and Seaside Heights to tour the damage and devastation Sandy left in its path.
“And then have them tell us this isn’t an emergency and that we have all the time in the world. We have people who have lost everything— their homes, businesses and belongings,” he said.
Now, Congress will face a new set of problems as legislators work to push Sandy relief funding through as the new term begins Thursday at noon, he said.
“Many of those who were going to vote on this are not going to be in the new session because of lost elections or they have moved on and are no longer members. Now we have a crop of freshmen who have no idea where the bathrooms are let alone what is going on. Now, we’re going to have to get them to vote on this,” he said.
Republican U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, stating that he was in disbelief that the Hurricane Sandy disaster relief bill failed to come to the Congress floor for vote Tuesday night.
Runyan stated that he and his constituents are extremely disappointed that in this time of need Congress failed to act.
"It has been over two months since Super Storm Sandy devastated my home state of New Jersey and Congress has failed to act. After Hurricane Katrina Congress acted and passed a supplemental spending bill within 10 days. My district was ground zero for Sandy and suffered horrific damage," Runyan stated.
He added that he saw firsthand the devastation that was experienced in his district after touring many of the coastal towns in the days after the storm.
"I can honestly say that some areas look like they had just been bombed," Runyan said in the statement.
Runyan stated that he supports Christie's request for funding and his estimate of storm-related damages in New Jersey to be $36.9 billion. New Jersey will need every last dime in order to rebuild successfully, Runyan stated.
Tuckerton Mayor George "Buck" Evans said costs are tremendous for debris removal and storm-related damage in this two and square mile borough that sits on the Barnegat Bay.
FEMA estimated that the borough's total loss damage is $3.6 million and officials are estimating 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.
Out of the 660 homes in the Tuckerton Beach section there are only about 50 people who have returned since the storm and are living there again, Evans said.
"I'm extremely frustrated that Congress did not move on it. I know our local congressmen have been working hard on it, but it's still frustrating. We have to act on this immediately," Evans said.
He said that it has been difficult sitting back and wondering what is going to happen with funding for storm damage as municipalities prepare to tackle already tight budgets for 2013.
"There are three states in the northeast have been impacted and the congressmen in the other 47 states don't seem to care. We're just as bad with our devastation as Katrina was if not worse and we're not getting the help we need," he said.
Evans disdain with Congress' inaction mirrored other officials regarding the help that the southeast received in the days and months after Hurricane Katrina.
"The federal government jumped when we had to take care of everything in the southeast, but when it happens in the northeast it becomes a slow process. Is it because in the northeast we were able to prepare better, who knows?" he said.
Wednesday afternoon, Ocean County Freeholder Joseph Vicari echoed Lobiondo's sentiments that Congress betrayed areas impacted by Superstorm Sandy by not voting on the funding package. Congress needs to get in order and take action immediately because the people will not tolerate inaction, Vicari said.
"This is a betrayal to all of our residents of the Jersey Shore and the states that need aid. This was one of worst storms to hit the US and the vice president made a personal commitment to the urgent need of the people of the shore and it's unforgivable for them not to take action. They need to get in order and take action because the people will not tolerate inaction.
Congress' failure to vote on the bill shows the insensitivity of what is going on in Washington, D.C., and that a disconnect exists because they don't understand what is taking place in New Jersey.
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 they needed help yesterday. Long Beach Township alone is projecting storm-related damages of about $500 million.
"I feel bad for our New Jersey congressional leaders because they were all ready to go on this and it's a shame because both sides of the aisle were pushing hard on this. There was no reason not to vote on this issue. They've known for two months about this bill and why it wasn't put on the floor for a vote is beyond comprehension," Mancini said.
"We have to think positive now because the season is upon is and I know we'll be ready. Now show us the money," Mancini said.
Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora said he woke up this morning and his heart sank when he heard the news. The township is looking at least $20 million in damage costs as a result of Superstorm Sandy, Spodofora said.
"This is Sandy part two. I'm extremely disappointed and surprised. I guess I thought it was a give-in that this funding would be approved immediately," he said.
If the township has to pick up the 25 percent of the storm-related costs after the Federal Emergency Management Administration covers 75 percent it will be about 15 percent of the municipal budget, he said.
The township entered into an agreement will the county late last year after the storm that allowed the county to front the township the money for storm-related costs, he said. Now, he said, the township will most likely have to borrow the money to cover costs by instituting emergency appropriations, he added.
"Even if reimbursement comes eventually it still means we have to find the money somewhere to pay people now that are doing the work and that means it will have to come from the taxpayers," he said.
"This is not fair to all of these small towns. Let's face, the northeast corner has sustained so much damage in infrastructure everybody is hurting. This decision should have been immediate," he said.
In Atlantic County, Freeholder Frank Formica said Congress' failure has disappointed him as a resident, an elected official, and a businessman.
“I just ate but I’ll comment and hope I don’t get sick. It’s unconscionable that some of these congress people have voted to give away hundreds of million to I don’t know what and especially at this time to not even bring it to vote,” Formica said Wednesday afternoon.
Formica said with the amount of devastation caused by the storm, homes, businesses and infrastructure need to be repaired and most people affected have already suffered unemployment and a downturn in the economy.
“This is the common folk and the people in need. I just don’t understand how they don’t bring this to a vote. Whoever is responsible or whatever the process was I if I had tabled something like this as a Freeholder I wouldn’t expect to get reelected,” he said.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said he was told by the office of Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia that plans were to abandon a vote.
Cantor, who sets the House schedule, did not immediately comment.
A spokesman for Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Michael Steel said, “The speaker is committed to getting this bill passed this month.”
In remarks on the House floor, King called the decision “absolutely inexcusable, absolutely indefensible. We cannot just walk away from our responsibilities.”
The Senate approved a $60.4 billion measure Friday to help with recovery from the October storm that devastated parts of New York, New Jersey and nearby states. The House Appropriations Committee had drafted a smaller, $27 billion measure, and a vote had been expected before Congress’ term ends Thursday at noon.
More than $2 billion in federal funds has been spent so far on relief efforts for 11 states and the District of Columbia struck by the storm, one of the worst ever to hit the Northeast. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund still has about $4.3 billion, enough to pay for recovery efforts into early spring, according to officials.
New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, District of Columbia, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New Hampshire, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are receiving federal aid.
Sandy was blamed for at least 120 deaths and battered coastline areas from North Carolina to Maine. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were the hardest hit states and suffered high winds, flooding and storm surges. The storm damaged or destroyed more than 72,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey. In New York, 305,000 housing units were damaged or destroyed and more than 265,000 businesses were affected.
“This is an absolute disgrace and the speaker should hang his head in shame,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.
“I’m here tonight saying to myself for the first time that I’m not proud of the decision my team has made,” said Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y. “It is the wrong decision, and I’ m going to be respectful and ask that the speaker reconsider his decision. Because it’s not about politics, it’s about human lives.”
“I truly feel betrayed this evening,” said Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.
“We need to be there for all those in need now after Hurricane Sandy,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y.
The House Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, said she didn’t know whether a decision has been made and added, “We cannot leave here doing nothing. That would be a disgrace.”
The Associated Press and Staff Writer Steve Lemongello contributed to this report.