Archive for the tag 'congress'

It’s not often you see a member of one of the nation’s most dysfunctional legislative bodies appropriately shaming members of another dysfunctional legislative body, but that’s what we wake up to this morning.

Congresswoman Yvette Clarke is calling on Albany lawmakers to send resources to those Brooklyn neighborhoods that are currently without representation in either the State Senate or Assembly. Locally, that includes Marine Park, Mill Basin and Gerritsen Beach, who are currently without an assemblyman.

In fact, there are currently five open seats in the two houses of state legislature that represent about 700,000 Brooklynites. Governor Andrew Cuomo has not called a special election to replace them, and those seats will be empty until January 2015.

That means that an entire budget season will come and go, and no one will be representing those districts in negotiations, depriving civic groups and community organizations of operating funds that are allocated annually.

“We cannot allow the failure to schedule a special election to prevent the allocation of resources to the people who lack representation. The legislators whose positions are now vacant supported many of the most important social service organizations and cultural institutions in Brooklyn. I believe we should continue that level of support,” Clarke said.

The Assembly seat representing Gerritsen Beach and Marine Park was vacated when Alan Maisel left the house to become city councilman. Some of the groups that depended on his voice for funding from Albany, according to Clarke, include the Marine Park Community Association and Amity Little League.

Clarke sent a letter to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, urging them to keep these organizations in mind.

The letter, in full, is after the jump.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would scale down scheduled hikes in flood insurance rates that could have seen some homeowners paying 10 times the amount they do now. The bill, the Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014, will now go to the Senate, where it’s expected to pass.

Reuters reports:

With homeowners and businesses facing premiums hikes of up to 10-fold or more as result of a 2-year-old law, the bill would limit annual increases of any individual policy under the National Flood Insurance Program to no more than 18 percent.

The legislation also instructs the Federal Emergency Management Agency to have “an affordability target” that would seek to limit the cost of a flood insurance policy to 1 percent of a home’s total coverage amount.

… The legislation was drafted in response to the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, which was designed to allow premiums to rise to reflect the true risk of living in high-flood areas.

The law was passed to address a $24 billion deficit in the NFIP, which serves about 5 million people and had mounting losses, largely from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.

… That law did not stipulate that rates would soar by more than 10 times, but that is what happened to the surprise of lawmakers and consternation of homeowners and small businesses.

Source: Recchia campaign

Source: Recchia campaign

Former City Councilman Domenic Recchia on Saturday officially announced his bid for the 11th Congressional District, the seat currently occupied by Republican Michael Grimm.

Recchia made the announcement before a crowd of supporters in front of his mother’s Staten Island home, where he and a host of lawmakers backing him took aim squarely at his opponent and the Republican party.

Politicker reports:

“I won’t be going to Washington to carry water for my party. I’ll be caring for the hopes and dreams of the people I’m there to represent–you,” Mr. Recchia told the crowd. “I’ll make you one more promise: I will continue to conduct myself honorably because my mom wouldn’t have it any other way. We all know that Mr. Grimm can be a little pugnacious.”

… “Well, starting now he has to pick on somebody his own size,” Mr. Recchia said.

… Mr. Recchia is looking to ride the demographic and ideological shifts underway in the traditionally Republican borough. While a Republican mayoral candidate won the borough in last year’s general election, President Barack Obama eked out a victory there two years ago. Left-leaning, minority voters are also increasingly populating Staten Island’s north shore, where Democrats like Mr. Recchia have performed well.

Although Grimm’s campaign has been the subject of a federal probe into fundraising improprieties, much of the statements at the weekend rally instead focused on recent headlines depicting Grimm as a short-tempered brute. They zeroed in on his well-publicized comments to a NY1 reporter, who he threatened to throw off a balcony in Washington after the reporter asked about the fundraising allegations. Former Congressman Michael McMahon targeted the allegations that Grimm had a sexual romp with a woman in a Bay Ridge bar.

Congressman Jerry Nadler said at the rally that the district needs a congressman who will be respected by his colleagues and the public.

“Nobody respects Grimm,” he said. “Nobody intelligent can respect Grimm.”

Grimm, meanwhile, had a campaign rally and fundraiser over the weekend, drawing approximately 240 supporters, SILive reports. There, he taunted Democrats for their weak showing in Staten Island, promised a ferocious campaign, and said that the seat would remain staunchly Republican for years to come.

SILive reports:

He predicted an outsized victory in November.

“But we’re not just going to win,” he said. “We’re going to run away with this election. We’re going to let them know this is a contact sport.”

For Democrats who say that the congressional district is in play, Grimm said, “Guess what? The Staten Island/Brooklyn seat is not vulnerable, is not up for grabs. It’s a Republican seat. So go home. Don’t waste your time. Don’t waste your money. This one is ours.”

Grimm’s supporters also seemed to derive glee from the congressman’s apparent mistreatment of members of the fourth estate. On threatening physical harm against the NY1 reporter, former Staten Island GOP Chairman Robert Scamardella drew laughs when he mocked the national outcry.

“Oh, the inhumanity of it,” Scamardella said to laughter from the crowd.

It appears Grimm’s Staten Island supporters are not shaken by those headlines either. Both candidates marched in Staten Island’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Sunday, where SILive interviewed attendees.

Staten Island resident Chris Chiafullo told the outlet he would vote for Grimm, and didn’t see the threats being much of a concern in the borough.

“The balcony thing maybe made a difference outside Staten Island, but not here,” he said.

Although Staten Island surely remains the district’s base, the Brooklyn portion has grown in the latest round of redistricting. While the seat before covered Bay Ridge and a sliver of Bensonhurst and Gravesend, it has now swelled to include almost all of Gravesend and a hunk of Sheepshead Bay.

 

Yvette Clarke

Remember back in October, when the federal government shut down for more than two weeksdelaying aid to Sandy survivors, booting kids from Head Start programs, and causing anxiety among struggling single mothers that their WIC lifeline could be cut? Yeah, we settled that, right?

Nope! Washington is as Washington does, and apparently Washington is a callous piker who kicks the can down the road. Now we face yet another government shutdown in just eight days, according to Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, who represents chunks of Sheepshead Bay and Gerritsen Beach. The congresswoman issued a press release this morning warning constituents about the matter, and her spokesperson Patrick Rheaume, told Sheepshead Bites the congressional rep is frustrated that her colleagues and the press don’t seem to be paying much attention.

Here’s the release she issued:

Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke released the following statement warning that, despite a budget agreement between Democrats and Republicans in December, the federal government will shut down on January 15, 2014 unless Congress enacts specific spending proposals.

“Unfortunately, we find ourselves once more at risk of a shutdown of the federal government,” said Congresswoman Clarke. “We should not forget the lessons we learned last year, when a seventeen-day shutdown reduced our Gross Domestic Product by $20 billion, prevented Americans from visiting national parks and monuments, and delayed services provided by federal agencies. The previous government shutdown was a self-inflicted wound to our nation, for which millions of people had to suffer unnecessarily.”

During the federal government shutdown from October 1 to October 17, 2013, more than 800,000 public employees on indefinite unpaid leave, several thousand people who work for private companies could not work, tax refunds from the Internal Revenue Service were delayed, some of the courts that handle immigration proceedings were closed, and 19,000 children lost access to the Head Start Program.

Congresswoman Clarke continued: “We cannot afford to undermine our economy with another shutdown the government.  Americans want Congress to focus on resolving critical matters such as immigration reform and the extension of unemployment benefits, not distractions.”

 

Floyd Bennett Field

Well then. Looks like the thick-headed, impudent twerps in Washington D.C. have fully managed to allow politics to trump their duty to their constituents, spurring the first government shutdown in nearly two decades.

Federal facilities across the nation have been padlocked, 800,000 government employees face uncertain futures, those who depend on federal social safety nets are in jeopardy, and the global financial market is in a tizzy.

Locally, Floyd Bennett Field, a National Park, is closed to the public, as is the Statue of Liberty and other federal parks and monuments.

More importantly to those in need, certain social programs remain at risk, bolstered only by generous funding at the state level.

In New York City, that includes the WIC program, which provides food to low-income mothers of young children. The program is no longer funded by the federal government – thanks to the showdown – but those in New York State will still be able to receive certain benefits for approximately one week, when reserves dry up.

School lunches and food stamps will still be available.

Federal employees throughout the neighborhood will be staying home, as 800,000 federal employees are furloughed. It’s not clear if that includes local FEMA representatives still on the ground helping with Superstorm Sandy recovery.

Army Corps of Engineers work at Plumb Beach, Coney Island, Brighton Beach and elsewhere will continue for several days, but may grind to a halt after funding from the prior year runs dry. Hundreds of contractors and employees may be furloughed without pay, and the projects – essential to the storm recovery and protection from future disasters – may be delayed.

Members of the active duty military are still on duty, but civilian employees of the Department of Defense, which likely includes a few stationed at Fort Hamilton, have been sent home.

In the midst of flu season, the Centers for Disease Control will face obstacles in tracking the flu and other disease outbreaks, and meeting the need through flu shot programs. Luckily for us, local elected officials have secured funding or partnerships for several local flu shot programs, and you can find the full schedule here.

Federal courts will continue to operate for about 10 business days, which we hope is enough to indict and convict the morons in our nation’s capital. But that’s unlikely. If you have any federal court business to take care of, we urge you to get it done as soon as possible.

Mail will continue to flow, so keep an eye out for political mailers. Priorities.

All essential personnel of the U.S. government, including the Department of Homeland Security, Coast Guard and Transportation Security Administration officers will stay on the job, and the government will continue to process green card applications.

Did we miss anything? Do you know of a program of service that has been discontinued due to the shutdown? Is the shutdown affecting you personally? Let us know in the comments.

Much of the information in this article came from an excellent rundown by the Guardian.

Congressional reps of Sandy-hit areas are looking to reform a law that prohibits FEMA from providing emergency relief to owners of condos and c0-ops. The New York Times is reporting that federal lawmakers are forging a bipartisan effort to bring help to condo and co-op owners swamped with bills as a result of Superstorm Sandy.

In June , we reported that Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein introduced a resolution that called on Congress to change the law which bars FEMA from helping condo and co-op owners.  Weinstein explained how the law in question, known as the StaffordAct, operates:

While nothing prohibits these co-ops from applying for aid, the Stafford Act, a Federal law last amended in 1988, considers co-op boards not-for-profit businesses. Therefore, aid cannot be applied to common spaces – like garages and laundry rooms – nor can it be applied to the walls and floors in apartments, because, according to bylaws, these spaces belong to and are the Coop’s responsibility.

Weinstein’s resolution to urge Congress in this matter passed unanimously in the New York State Assembly. Perhaps as a result of Weinstein’s call to attention, members of Congress are now pushing to change the Stafford Act, calling it discriminatory against condo and co-op owners.

The Times further described what the problems facing condo and c0-op owners and what the passage of the bill would change:

Co-ops were most affected because of their unique form of ownership, in which tenants own shares in a building. While condo owners can get federal assistance to fix walls and floors in their individual units, owners of co-ops cannot, because their apartments’ walls and floors are usually the legal responsibility of the building.

The bill would make condos and residential cooperatives eligible for FEMA assistance by adding them to the Stafford Act. The bill would remove the $30,000 cap in aid for co-op and condo associations but does not impose a new one, stating that it would need “to be determined by the rule-making process.”

Backers of the proposed legislation include Democrat Steve Israel and Republican Peter King. Israel acknowledged that while changing the rule will be difficult, it is the fair thing to do.

“We have a lot of educating to do,” Israel told the Times. “There will be many members of Congress that would say, ‘I don’t have co-ops in my district; why should I support this?’ My response would be, I don’t have tornadoes, but I support your assistance.”

Source: nyc.gov

Part of Bloomberg’s Proposed Plan (Source: nyc.gov)

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ambitious and massive $20 billion storm protection program that seeks to safeguard New York City from future extreme weather catastrophes faces some serious obstacles before it becomes reality. The New York Times is reporting that the plan will have to pass through the ringer of City Hall, Albany, Washington, government agencies, zoning panels and community groups before construction ever begins.

Yesterday we reported on the stark climate data that inspired Bloomberg to come up with a massively detailed storm protection plan, that if enacted, would be his greatest legacy. The plan, which calls for massive construction projects and the placement of a network of seawalls and bulkheads across the city’s coastline, would dramatically alter the look and landscape of the city. The $20 billion price doesn’t figure in estimated billions more needed for the project as it will inevitably grow in size and scope. But the cost and construction would represent only the final hurdles of the ambitious plan.

Andy Darrell, New York regional director of the Environmental Defense Fund explained the key of bringing the plan together.

“Many of these solutions will require an unprecedented level of cooperation,” Darrell told the Times. “We know how to do these things. What we have to do is clear a path.”

Columbia geophysicist Klaus Jacob agreed with Darrell’s assessment.

“A plan is a plan is a plan,” Jacob told the Times. “But there will be a hard reality of how to put this into action. Many of the infrastructure systems that the city depends on are not under city control.”

With Bloomberg serving out his final term, part of the problem will be how much leadership the future mayor invests in the project. While candidates like Council Speaker Christine Quinn support the project, others, like Public Advocate Bill de Blasio raised questions.

“Many questions remain. As we review the plan, we must ensure that it truly serves the needs of low-income residents without a safety net, many of whom suffered the worst and longest-lasting impacts from Superstorm Sandy,” de Blasio told the Times.

Source: Jacinta Quesada via Wikimedia Commons

Source: Jacinta Quesada via Wikimedia Commons

Rising temperatures, more hurricanes and torrential flooding; these are the increasingly extreme weather factors that New Yorkers are expected to live with over the next 50 years. The New York Times is reporting on the statistics released by the Bloomberg administration that indicate the onset of climate change and its effects on the city’s coastline in the coming decades.

The study released by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office states that the number of city residents living in the 100-year flood plain will nearly double from 398,000 currently estimated to be at risk, to 800,000 by the year 2050. Another disturbing statistic points to how future New Yorkers should expect more scorching summer days and rising sea levels:

Administration officials said that between 1971 and 2000, New Yorkers had an average of 18 days a year with temperatures at or above 90 degrees. By the 2020s, that figure could be as high as 33 days, and by the 2050s, it could reach 57, according to data collected by the New York City Panel on Climate Change…

In 2009, it projected that sea levels would rise by two to five inches by the 2020s. Now, the panel estimates that the sea levels will rise four to eight inches by that time, with a high-end figure of 11 inches. Between 1900 and 2013, sea levels in New York City rose about a foot, administration officials said.

Based on these numbers, it may become pointless for the city’s elderly to retire to Florida as New York becomes a sweltering tropical swamp by the middle of the century.

To fight this encroaching environmental nightmare, Bloomberg also laid out his $20 billion plan to protect the city’s 520 miles of coastline with a network of flood walls, levees and bulkheads. The ambitious plan would also cover improvements to the city’s power grid and infrastructure and making city bridges hurricane proof. Bloomberg was adamant that work on the project begin quickly.

“This plan is incredibly ambitious — and much of the work will extend far beyond the next 203 days — but we refused to pass the responsibility for creating a plan onto the next administration. This is urgent work, and it must begin now,” the Times reported Bloomberg saying.

To put the $20 billion price tag in context, the entire New York City annual budget is approximately $70 billion.

With over 250 recommendations, the large plan is only likely to grow in cost and scope if enacted. An example of this is the proposed construction of “Seaport City,” which would be built just south of the Brooklyn Bridge. The purpose of Seaport City would be to remodel Battery Park City and protect lower Manhattan from flooding. The cost of Seaport City is not figured in the initial $20 billion estimate but is expected to cost billions more.

To reach the minimum $20 billion cost of the project, the city would have to raise $5 billion. As much as $15 billion is already covered by federal and city money already allocated via the Sandy aid package approved by Congress. Bloomberg believes that the cost to protect New York now will far outweigh the cost of restoring New York after a future storm 30 years from now, which he estimates could cost the city upwards of $90 billion. Superstorm Sandy cost the city an estimated $19 billion.

More locally, the city would be planning to install a series of wetlands and tidal barriers to Coney Island, illustrated below.

Source: nyc.gov

Source: nyc.gov

All in all, if enacted, Bloomberg’s plan would radically alter the landscape of New York City, transforming its landscape and coastline. The cost would be enormous, but given the extreme weather changes facing the city in the coming decades, the investment might be well worth the cost and effort.

You can read the entire plan here.

Source: assembly.state.ny.us

Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein (Source: assembly.state.ny.us)

As it stands, co-ops devastated by Superstorm Sandy are not currently eligible for FEMA funding and Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein wants to change that. According to a press release, Weinstein believes that laws governing the treatment of co-ops are outdated and need to be amended.

Weinstein’s release explained why FEMA is currently not responsible for funding the repair of co-ops:

While nothing prohibits these co-ops from applying for aid, the Stafford Act, a Federal law last amended in 1988, considers co-op boards not-for-profit businesses. Therefore, aid cannot be applied to common spaces – like garages and laundry rooms – nor can it be applied to the walls and floors in apartments, because, according to bylaws, these spaces belong to and are the Coop’s responsibility.

As a result of Weinstein’s actions, the New York State Assembly has unanimously passed a resolution that asks Congress to amend the Stafford Act so that co-ops are recognized as single-family homeowners which would require FEMA to assist in their repair.

Weinstein explained the importance of getting the law changed in Washington.

“Outdated laws like these are crippling neighborhoods and preventing communities from  returning to normal ways of life,” said Assemblywoman Weinstein. “This amendment would  allow co-op boards to make crucial repairs and provide to their shareholders and tenants the quality of life and safety to which they are entitled. I urge my colleagues in Congress to  immediately adopt this amendment.”

Source: Free Press Pics via Flickr

In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, many business and homeowners were left with tough financial decisions as to how to rebuild their lives. Many were offered loans by the Small Business Association (SBA) but rejected them because they didn’t want to incur more debt.

Because of complex bureaucratic rules, business and homeowners who rejected the SBA loans are now being denied some resources, leading politicians like Senator Charles Schumer and Congressman Michael Grimm to press the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) into changing their rules, according to a press release.

Current HUD policy now demands that the amount of approved loans, including those who didn’t even accept them in the first place, are to be counted against the potential grant amounts they are eligible for in the upcoming distribution of the Community Development Block Grants. The justification of the complex rule that Schumer and Grimm are battling against was explained in the release:

Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding, which comes in the form of a grant, not a loan, is intended to supplement other forms of available aid, and cover only “unmet need.” In determining the amount of “unmet need,” HUD regulations provide that any SBA loans for which a homeowner is approved are counted against the of unmet need.

The problem with this regulation is that it does not take into consideration the circumstances that might have led someone to reject a loan in the first place. Schumer expressed concern that this policy will hurt people who need it most.

“This policy will punish these homeowners and HUD should do everything in it power to make sure these individuals are eligible for additional federal assistance,” said Schumer.

Schumer’s concerns were shared by Grimm, according to SI Live.

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