Sun, Dec 09, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Obama seeks approval for Sandy aid package


US President Barack Obama asked Congress on Friday to approve a US$60.4 billion aid package to help east coast states rebuild after Hurricane Sandy, well short of their initial requests.

Officials from storm-battered New York, New Jersey and Connecticut had said they needed at least US$82 billion combined to make emergency repairs and upgrade infrastructure.

New York and New Jersey lawmakers said they expect Obama will seek more aid as the extent of Sandy’s damage becomes clearer. The two states were hit the hardest by the storm, which made landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29.

“This supplemental is a very good start, and while US$60 billion doesn’t cover all of New York and New Jersey’s needs, it covers a large percentage,” said Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

“This is the first good news New York has had in a while,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

Of the total, US$15 billion would come in the form of Community Development Block Grants, a mechanism that gives local jurisdiction significant flexibility to provide aid and rebuild quickly.

In addition, nearly US$13 billion would go to an array of projects aimed at better protecting the New York-New Jersey coastal region and preventing damage from future storms.

Another US$6.2 billion would be reserved for public transportation infrastructure.

Officials said they could ask for more aid later on. There is precedent for multiple funding requests to cope with a disaster.

Less than two weeks after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf of Mexico coast in 2005, Congress had passed two appropriations totaling US$62.3 billion. Within a year, two more packages were passed worth a combined US$48 billion, which also covered damage from Hurricanes Rita and Wilma.

Multibillion-dollar supplemental appropriations for Katrina were still being made as late as 2010.

The disaster funding request, on a scale not seen since Katrina, could complicate already tense negotiations between the White House and Congress on a deficit reduction deal.

Lawmakers are trying to avert the year-end “fiscal cliff” of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that amount to a total of US$600 billion.

“We have the request and will review it,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner.

He did not elaborate.

Some Republican lawmakers have said they will demand spending cuts elsewhere in the federal budget to offset the cost of some projects in the aid package.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, whose panel will review the request, said Congress has a responsibility to help the region recover.

“It is also our responsibility during these tight-budget times to make sure that the victims of this storm are getting the most of every single recovery dollar, and to ensure that disaster funds are timed and targeted in the most efficient and appropriate manner,” the Republican lawmaker said in a statement.

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