Locals Fear Federal Sandy Aid Battle In Congress
TOMS RIVER, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – As some of the hardest hit towns continue to try to recover from superstorm Sandy, local officials have voiced optimism for Tuesday’s planned aid vote in the House of Representatives.
Congress was scheduled to vote on a $51 billion federal storm aid package. But objections to so-called pork making its way into the original measure have led House Republicans to draft their own $17 billion package.
Still, local leaders said assistance is needed now.
“I’m looking forward to it passing. I can’t imagine that it won’t,” Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher told WCBS 880’s Jim Smith. “Our expenses are overwhelming.”
The smaller package is far less than what President Obama had asked Congress for and less than what had already passed in the Senate. A $9.7 billion flood insurance claims measure has already passed.
The vote on federal aid was delayed by House Speaker John Boehner, who decided to wait until the new session of Congress began before putting the funding up for a vote.
But while Congress has stalled, Kelaher said the bills have been piling up.
“It’s millions and millions of dollars,” he told Smith.
The town shelled out its own money for things like police overtime and the enormous cost of debris removal.
“In areas of Toms River that were flooded everything — mostly one-story bungalows — everything that people owned was destroyed and carried out to the streets.”
Kelaher said if aid is not approved, local taxes will skyrocket which could trigger a second catastrophe.
“If they don’t do it, I’m going to pick up Gov. Christie and we’ll drive down together and break some doors down,” Kelaher added.
On Staten Island, residents said they need all the help they can get. And they said a smaller aid package may not be enough to fully recover.
“It’s going to be like a new beginning because everything was really destroyed, everything,” Pamela from New Dorp Beach told WCBS 880’s Monica Miller.
Local contractors also fear inadequate funding may cripple the local economy all over again.
FEMA has already spent $2 billion in disaster relief funding to help hard-hit residents recover.
Boehner came under sharp criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for delaying a vote on federal assistance. Earlier this month, the first round of funding in the form of flood insurance claims was signed into law.
Staten Islanders held a protest on Saturday, demanding swift action more than two and a half months after Sandy hit.
“Here we stand, victims of Sandy. 75 days later, still waiting. We are suffering,” one woman said.
A similar rally was also held Saturday in Keansburg, N.J. Residents there said they are tired, angry and emotional.
“We’re the ones that keep paying the taxes. And what are we getting in return? A big fat zero,” a fed-up resident said.
“What’s happening to us? You’re killing us left and right, just killing us,” said another resident.
Much of the anger is directed at the politicians who promised a swift response. The residents said they are now left wondering where their elected officials have been amid the struggle.
Only a few local elected officials continue to show up.
“I see you guys crying. I understand what you’ve been going through and I want you to know I’m with you 100 percent,” New York State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis told the crowd on Staten Island on Saturday.
She is a Staten Island native.
“It’s very unfortunate that we’ve given aid to other countries in shorter periods of time than we’re taking care of our own,” she said through tears.
And while their anger at their own government grows, residents expressed their gratitude to those who have offered a helping hand.
“I’ve met Amish people who don’t read the newspaper, don’t listen to the news and don’t even drive and they found their way to Staten Island and they figured out how to help – and our leaders can’t?” Staten Islander Yvette Kosic said.
Residents also expressed their anger at insurance companies for making what they consider inadequate settlements of their claims.
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