By Congressman Frank LoBiondo
More than two months after Hurricane Sandy struck South Jersey, the scars of devastation upon our homes, our businesses, our shoreline and our friends and neighbors remain ever so visible and ever so painful.
Each day our region struggles to recover and residents attempt to rebuild their lives as heightened levels of anxiety, frustration, sadness and anger remain. No one in South Jersey has forgotten Sandy, and it is imperative that Washington not be allowed to overlook the real destruction and critical need our communities continue to face.
As widely reported, some of my colleagues have intentionally delayed aid from reaching affected communities, unnecessarily creating a disaster in dealing with this disaster. Citing the Senate-passed “pork” laden bill, they question if federal resources will truly reach those in need.
I appreciate their concerns and have actively sought to alleviate them by working with the congressional delegations of New Jersey and New York, as well as Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to strip out extraneous provisions. Thus, as originally planned in the final days of 2012, the bill we are introducing in the House of Representatives on Tuesday should provide federal aid only to states affected by the storm.
Likewise, there are some local opinions that stand against any federal assistance in the aftermath of a wide-scale disaster such as Sandy. They argue individual states and impacted municipalities should be solely responsible for recovery and rebuilding efforts, while federal tax dollars should not be used for “local issues”. I strongly disagree with the shortsighted view that New Jersey, which supported other states as they dealt with disasters and which sends more tax dollars to Washington than it receives, should be short-changed at its time of need.
That is not to say federal aid should be unchecked. In 2005 and 2006, more than $100 billion was sent to the Gulf Coast states, including $60 billion within just 10 days of the storm in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
While the need for federal support along the Gulf Coast was never questioned, serious allegations and proven abuses of taxpayer dollars unfortunately occurred. Subsequent reforms were made to how FEMA and other agencies respond to natural disasters and what response and mitigation efforts the federal government would fund going forward. These reforms minimize the potential for large sums of taxpayer dollars to simply be thrown into an unorganized, unaccountable system. The goal going forward was a more situation-specific, cost-effective response.
Post-Sandy, Govs. Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo of New York have been thoughtful, comprehensive and responsible in their requests for assistance. They’ve identified projects such as mass transit repairs, shore and flood protection efforts and public infrastructure systems that require immediate attention. They recognize that, while federal funding appropriate to recovery will be spent over the coming months and years, projects of this magnitude can only begin if all funding is in place from the start.
Furthermore, they seek to mitigate potential destruction from future storms by making strategic decisions now during rebuilding. Two months have now passed and, with accountability and oversight in place, Congress must now approve the remaining $51 billion Sandy emergency supplemental package.
Beyond Tuesday’s vote in the House and intended quick consideration in the Senate, the New Jersey and New York delegations will continue to advocate for equitable treatment as our region continues to rebuild from Sandy. One key piece is the “Hurricane Sandy Tax Relief Act” which would provide tax relief for individuals, businesses and municipalities affected. This bipartisan legislation is modeled after a similar law in the wake of Katrina and would be an asset in getting our families and businesses, already struggling due to stagnant economy, back on their feet.
In the days and months following Sandy, we’ve seen the country come together in support of fellow Americans in need. From the work of organized charities to neighbors helping neighbors, the immense outpouring of support and assistance has brought vital supplies such as clothing, food, medicine, building materials and financial aid.
But so much more help and stability is needed. Further delays are inexcusable. Additional suffering to those whose lives were uprooted by Sandy can and should be prevented.
South Jersey has just begun the long process of rebuilding — Congress should not further stand in the way of that recovery.