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Could Fiscal Cliff Threat Jeopardize Sandy Relief?

Sandy Recovery in New Dorp - Nov. 6, 2012 (credit: Emilio Sarullo / WCBS 880)

Sandy Recovery in New Dorp – Nov. 6, 2012 (credit: Emilio Sarullo / WCBS 880)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — For the first time since Election Day, President Barack Obama has met with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to discuss how the country can avoid going over the so-called fiscal cliff, as concerns mount about whether the stalemate in Washington could hurt Sandy relief efforts.

As CBS 2’s Drew Levinson reported, along New Dorp Beach in Staten Island, the Sandy cleanup continued Sunday. Homes were still in shambles and people are desperate for help.

“I don’t know,” said New Dorp Beach resident Anthony Marotto. “I might be here in a box by the time I get government help.”

Marotto filed for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has a $14.3 billion dollar budget for disasters like Sandy.

The White House estimates FEMA could lose $878 million if Washington lawmakers cant strike a deal by years end to avoid going over the fiscal cliff, when automatic tax hikes and spending cuts would take effect.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the government usually has a hands-off policy when it comes to disaster money.

“The federal government has had the view for a hundred years – when God’s wrath strikes, it’s so overwhelming that localities – even big ones like New York – can’t handle it on its own,” Schumer said.

But what if help from the federal government is not guaranteed?

“We don’t know for sure in Washington these days. Who knows?” he said. “There is no certainty on just about anything.”

Many Sandy victims said they are so consumed with trying to put their lives back together that they do not even know what is going on in Washington, and they have never even heard of the fiscal cliff.

“This is news to me,” said New Dorp Beach resident Anthony Gambino. “As of two seconds ago, I didn’t hear that part.”

Gambino spent Sunday seeking FEMA dollars. He is homeless and cannot understand how Congress could allow the U.S. government to cut vital budgets like that of FEMA.

“That’s crazy. That doesn’t make any sense at all,” Gambino said. “We need it down here. We need it, and there are a lot of people more destitute than me.”

Congress now has three weeks to figure it out or fall off the cliff.

Are you worried about the effect of the fiscal cliff on Sandy relief? Leave your comments below…