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Lawmakers Push For Tens Of Billions In Disaster Aid For New York, New Jersey

Staten Island After Sandy

Many areas of Staten Island remain devastated more than a month after Superstorm Sandy. (Credit: CBS 2)

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Superstorm Sandy

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The pressure was on New York lawmakers this weekend to get federal funds to help cover the billions in damage from Superstorm Sandy, and homeowners have been waiting for help too.

As CBS 2’s Steve Langford reported, the support for Sandy victims within just the Tri-State area has been well-documented. On Sunday, a rented truck full of donated goods arrived in Staten Island, driven by two women from Albany.

Andrea Loguidice and Chris Schultz put out the word upstate, and people responded, they said, with a motherlode of offerings.

“School supplies for whoever wants those,” the women said as they handed out the goods.

But in the halls of Congress in Washington, some fear the push to pay for recovery may not be met by the same kind of united support.

“There could be certain people — powerful people — who could block things,” U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Sunday. “I’m not going to name anybody, because so far, that hasn’t happened.”

Schumer and other elected officials, including fellow Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), were pushing Sunday for an initial request for federal storm aid for New York and New Jersey totaling close to $80 billion.

“We want to strike while the iron is hot,” Schumer said.

And more than a month after the storm, the staggering needs have not been met. Kola Berisa and his family, standing in line Saturday for aid at the Tunnel to Towers Foundation Relief Center, will not be going home at all.

The same was true for many others in storm-ravaged New Dorp Beach, Staten Island.

“Oh, it’s gone, it’s gone,” Berisa said. “We are in an apartment. We have to move.”

Added Eddie Saman, “FEMA did a bad job, really.”

Saman, who emigrated here from Egypt 30 years ago, was not happy with how the federal government has treated his request for aid for his ravaged home. But Saman’s American flag stood as a declaration of his enduring gratitude for complete strangers who came to help him.

“I am proud to be American,” he said. “I am proud of the people of America who help me they are good-hearted.”

As for Schumer and the other lawmakers, they want the federal government to make an equally good-hearted move.

“The number (of dollars) must be commensurate with the huge amount of damage New York has suffered,” he added at a Manhattan news conference. “We’re fighting to get as much as we can now.”

The senator acknowledged that the approaching fiscal cliff “makes the job harder,” but added, “I am hopeful.”

Under discussion are supplemental federal funds for New York approaching $42 billion. About 25 percent of that would go toward better protecting vulnerable seaside areas, by building structures such as jetties against storm surges in harbors or along shorelines.

The federal money would cover destroyed homes, transit systems, hospitals and small businesses, the senator said. More than 300,000 homes had “serious damage,” he said.

President Barack Obama must submit the additional funding request to Congress.

Schumer said he and other officials from New York and equally hard-hit New Jersey have participated in discussions with the White House, the Office of Management and Budget and Shaun Donovan, the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Schumer said changes in legislation may be needed to match the emergency needs.

For instance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency may provide up to $31,900 for home repair. Then the homeowner may apply for a Small Business Administration disaster loan for additional repairs. But that could prove to be too little money to rebuild, the senator said.

In addition, many people living in neighborhoods near the water who didn’t have flood insurance are not covered.

And four New York City hospitals whose beds are now empty and may not be fully functional for months could be in economic danger “if they don’t get some kind of help,” Schumer said.

In addition, some small businesses may “go under” unless they are offered loans with interest rates lower than government ones that come with interest rates as high as 6 percent.

“The changes have to come from the White House,” the senator said.

Schumer said he expects more progress in the coming week, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo visiting Washington on Monday.

Do you think New York needs the federal aid? Leave your comments below…

(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)