Monday, January 28, 2013

The Senate Will Finally Vote on $50.5 Billion Sandy Aid Package

91 days.

That's how many days since Hurricane Sandy slammed ashore along the New Jersey and New York coast and caused billions upon billions of dollars in damage and crippled the region for weeks on end.

Sandy washed ashore at the end of October, which means that there are many who are without heat and power still - in the depths of winter at a time when Congress couldn't get its act together. The New York City metro area is getting hit with a wintry mix today before the middle of the week turns into Indian summer as temps are supposed to get up to 60.

The fact that the winter for the most part has been mild and had lower than normal precipitation levels has made things only slightly more tolerable for those who are still waiting for assistance. The last week, however, has been super rough on those who are still without heat or electricity due to storm damage with frigid temps.

The Senate is finally going to vote on the $50.5 billion aid package today, which means that President Obama will likely sign later this week. It's absolutely unconscionable and unforgivable that it has taken 3 months to get aid approved.

It's unforgivable that the House GOP screwed with the Sandy victims in this way - forcing multiple votes and imposing standards that they themselves would never tolerate on any aid that would be forthcoming to them if they were in dire need of disaster assistance (and far too many of these sanctimonious GOPers are in districts prone to natural disasters of one sort or another - flooding, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, or earthquakes).

The Record assembled a list of votes on disaster aid, and while noting that most aid packages had some level of opposition, that was due as much or more so to the fact that the aid was attached to other unrelated items such as Iraq or Afghanistan war funding and the purpose of attaching disaster aid was as much a political decision as a functional one.

Fact is that the Sandy aid was a clean bill - it wasn't attached to anything even resembling anything controversial. It was Republican obstinancy and demands for offsetting cuts that forced multiple votes and delays that pushed aid into a three month delay. No other initial disposition of aid after a natural disaster took so long.

That there were so many opposed to restoring the flood insurance program's solvency shows just how far off the rails Republicans have gone. Flooding is the single most common natural disaster cost. It occurs anywhere in the nation - witness extreme flooding from severe storms in places like Arizona or Utah as well as along coasts, mountain areas, and inland around rivers. Yet, dozens upon dozens of Republicans voted against this program even as they were touting the National Flood Insurance Program on their own official websites. It was and is the height of hypocrisy.

The Republican mantra has been we need offsetting revenues, ignoring the fact that getting businesses and residences back in operation will generate revenue, eliminate uncertainty and restore the economic activity in a region that is still affected by the disaster and which generates a significant portion of the nation's economic output. There's a Senate Republican amendment to demand just that - offsetting cuts, but it's not expected to get approved.

The Senate's delay in getting the aid package to vote on after the House passed is worth noting as well, but the real delay was due to the House GOP screwing with the affected areas and failing to act on the reconstruction aid before the 2012 Congressional session came to an end and the entire process had to start anew.

Blame resides with them and their asinine claims of pork.

To this day, there are some who claim that the aid package is full of pork, and yet when one reads the bill, you'd be hard pressed to find anything of the sort. What some referred to pork was aid for damage due to natural disasters in other parts of the country, such as the $150 million aid package put into the original bill by Alaska Republicans to aid fisheries there.

The damage tally to the infrastructure keeps coming in. NJ Transit's infrastructure is still recovering, and Hoboken Terminal isn't operating at full capacity, and customer services are nonexistent - no heated waiting areas or restroom facilities. It's taken weeks for the agency (through its own incompetence by the way) to get around to addressing those issues by reserving trains for restrooms and to keep customers warm while waiting for trains.

PATH is still operating at a reduced schedule and there's no service between the World Trade Center and Hoboken because of the need to procure parts. They have to replace decades old equipment, which wont arrive until the end of next month meaning that it will be March at the earliest before full service is restored (and revenue service can resume).


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