Archive for the tag 'us congress'

Source: Brian Hedden via Bay Ridge Odyssey

Source: Brian Hedden via Bay Ridge Odyssey

Republican Congressman Michael Grimm is asking the federal government to earmark $600 million for the Build it Back program, the housing recovery project designed to help Superstorm Sandy victims, and take control over Sandy funds out of the hands of of local authorities, reports SILive.

While the money is already on its way as part of a larger package, Grimm wants the government to earmark that amount specifically for Build it Back and not permit New York City or state authorities any flexibility with the funds.

“The City of New York needs to take a better look at how they’re allocating their resources. It’s not their money to just allocate as they see fit. This is the people of Staten Island’s money — that was the intent of Congress. And they need to be stewards to that money,” Grimm said.

Thus far, the billions in federal aid money flowing into city coffers has come in the form of Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs) and has allowed the city to be flexible in the way it spends it. In a letter to Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Grimm advocated that the city needs an additional $600 million just for housing alone, and that the city should have no say in how this cash is spent.

“I don’t have faith that the city will do the right thing for the people that I represent in Staten Island,” Grimm said.

Source: FEMA via nytimes

Source: FEMA via nytimes

As the one year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy draws near, homeowners living along the shores are staring down another potential catastrophe, skyrocketing insurance rates. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that if coastal homeowners don’t begin the costly enterprise of elevating their homes, their coastal flood insurance premiums could increase by a whopping 500 percent.

We first reported on the possibly of drastically increased insurance rates in January when FEMA expanded the flood zone lines for the first time since 1983. According to estimates, a $250,000 home with a ground floor four feet below sea level will have to pay an eye-popping $9,500 a year in flood insurance. If the owners manage to (expensively) hoist that home three feet above the flood line will only have to pay $427 a year.

The Journal is reporting that approximately 30,000 homes, now located in the redrawn FEMA flood zone lines, could be faced with paying the high rates in two years time. Many of these homes are owned by middle-class residents and the new rates represent a punishing blow to people already hammered by the winds of Sandy last year.

For its part, FEMA declared that they will undertake an affordability study to measure the economic impact of their redrawn lines. The Journal is reporting that their study will take two years to complete and cost taxpayers $1.5 million to conduct.

In the meantime, senators in Washington are rallying for their constituents, calling for delays to the rate increases until the problem can be fairly addressed. The increased rates are the result of a law, called the Biggert-Waters Act, passed just months before Superstorm Sandy struck. The law renewed the federal flood insurance program, but sought to cut subsidies to the program and force homeowners to pay the rates that reflected the actual risk of living near the water. It was proposed in response to years of concern that the flood insurance program spent taxpayer’s dollars to rebuild vacation homes for the wealthy.

But in New York City, most of the homes in the flood zone were primary residences of middle-class families, unexpected victims of the new law, which passed with support from New York senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

Now Schumer and Gillibrand, as well as other supporters of the Biggert-Waters Act, are scrambling to delay the increases, and there appears to be some support from FEMA as well.

In an appearance before the Senate last month, FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate said the U.S. should stop subsidizing risk for new construction, businesses and secondary homes. “But I think we need to look at affordability people for who live there, look at how we can mitigate their risk,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, the Californian who co-sponsored the Biggert-Waters Act, was seeking to delay its implementation, saying in a news release that she didn’t intend for homeowners to face “outrageous” premiums.

Although FEMA says some property owners who lift structures above flood plains could see their insurance rates drop, the Biggert-Waters Act has sparked protests in at least nine states.

Source: Facebook

Source: Facebook

As the lone GOP representative of a city dominated by Democrats in the federal legislature, Congressman Grimm has a unique position and voice when it comes to relating to his GOP colleagues. The New York Daily News is reporting that Grimm used his special platform to denounce his own party leaders for inviting Kentucky Senator Rand Paul to a Manhattan GOP fundraiser in August.

As the race for the 2016 presidency inches closer, battles are breaking out in the Republican Party. On the one side, you have more traditional conservatives like Arizona Senator John McCain and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. These types of Republicans have moderate streaks and are unafraid to bargain with Democrats on key issues of national security and federal emergency responses to disasters like Superstorm Sandy. On the other side, you have a growing libertarian movement, led by Texas Congressman Ron Paul and his son Senator Rand Paul. These Republicans preach isolationism, a reduction in military intervention and a dramatic reduction of federal spending that eclipses your standard conservative.

Senator Paul, who has ambitions to run for president in ’16, has gone on record opposing the $60 billion Congressional Sandy Aid package. In a recent interview, Paul bashed Republicans like Christie and Grimm, who requested federal funds following Sandy saying that they had a “gimmie, gimmie, gimmie” attitude. As a result of Paul’s stance on Superstorm Sandy funding, Grimm urged the Manhattan GOP not to invite him to an August 13 fundraiser.

Despite Grimm’s plea for the Manhattan GOP to show Paul the door, the Daily News is reporting that they are inviting him anyway:

But Manhattan GOP chair Daniel Isaacs said he has no plans to back down. “My inclination” is to hold the event, he said, adding that he had been assured by Paul’s staff that the “gimme, gimme, gimme” quote was taken out of context.

Paul, however, said his statement “came off exactly” as he’d meant it and he reiterated it again Tuesday.

Paul’s brazen defense of beliefs that would have left the Tri-State area without funds to rebuild following the immense destruction of Sandy has irked other local GOP members, especially Christie. According to a New York Times report, Christie bashed Paul for his views on national security, invoking September 11.

“These esoteric, intellectual debates — I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation,” Christie said. “And they won’t, because that’s a much tougher conversation to have…The next attack that comes, that kills thousands of Americans as a result, people are going to be looking back on the people having this intellectual debate and wondering whether they put —” Mr. Christie said before cutting himself off.

Needless to say, if Paul ends up being the Republican nominee for president in 2016, there is little danger of New York turning red.

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: sba.gov

Source: sba.gov

Did you apply for a loan from the Small Business Administration (SBA) in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy only to realize that you could have received free cash months later through Community Development Block Grant recovery funds? If so, you probably think it is unfair that you have to pay back a loan to the government when your neighbor is getting a free ride.

SI Live is reporting that politicians are petitioning the SBA to forgive debts of people who took out loans that would have otherwise qualified for the Community Development Bock Grants.

A letter drafted by Congressman Michael Grimm, pleads for those caught in between the various federal bailout plans.

“For months after the storm, residents who went to FEMA for assistance were referred to the SBA to address needs that could not be met by FEMA’s individual assistance program,” Grimm wrote.

Some people were offered SBA disaster loans but declined because they worried about taking on more debt, and a recent decision by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development allows them to receive assistance under New York City’s “Build it Back” program, he wrote.

“It is critical, however, that we not overlook individuals who qualified for and accepted SBA loans because they felt they had no other options in their quest to recover,” Grimm wrote.

Grimm went on to write about the inherent unfairness of the situation.

“[I]ndividuals who acted precisely as the government suggested — use SBA loans to cover unmet disaster-related needs — are the ones who (are) being punished with additional debt.”

Well, I have to say that the situation does seem unfair. Did you qualify for an SBA loan and accept it? Do you wish you hadn’t? Let us know.

church

A bill that would release FEMA funds to houses of worship damaged by Superstorm Sandy has been stalled in the Senate since last March. The Jewish Daily Forward is reporting that because of the holdup, many religious institutions are left waiting before they can proceed with any more repairs.

Late last February, we reported that the House of Representatives passed a bill that would alter FEMA’s rules to provide emergency funding for religious institutions. At the time FEMA objected to the measure on grounds that it was unconstitutional. Congressman Jerrold Nadler echoed these sentiments in his opposition to the bill, which caused a backlash from Jewish groups who had been lobbying hard for its passage.

While the bill eventually passed in the House, it has since stalled in the Senate with many lawmakers unwilling to debate a bill that might challenge key principles embedded in the First Amendment, namely the separation of church and state. As a result of the hesitation, those waiting for the money have begun to lose hope:

“Our hands are completely tied waiting for the state to give us the money we so desperately need to rebuild,” said Levi Pine, director of operations for the Russian American Jewish Experience, a local group housed in a heavily damaged Jewish center. “For many, Sandy is a thing of the past; for us still waiting, it’s something we deal with daily…”

“There are thousands of members just looking for morale,” Pine said. “FEMA would simply help build morale. Everyone’s basically feeling like orphans. And we get mixed messages from FEMA.”

Despite the logjam, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) have put forward new legislation which has been described as a counterpart to the original House bill. The Senate bill would free up FEMA spending for physical repairs and systems needed in houses of worship but exclude spending on religious items like Bibles, Torahs or Korans. Gillibrand and Blunt hope that the new limitations would represent a compromise to those who fear that the legislation would violate the First Amendment.

“Faith-based groups deserve the same opportunities to receive federal disaster aid as other nonprofit organizations,” Blunt said in a statement.

In the meantime, volunteers have tried to pick up the slack and help repair religious buildings damaged in the storm while others have moved on from waiting for government intervention entirely:

At RAJE, leaders enlisted the help of Third Day Missions, which is led by the Rev. Daniel Delgado of Staten Island and coordinates Christian volunteers from around the country to help with recovery work. Pine was thankful for their help, but he also said that they couldn’t be expected to provide the same level of work as professional contractors. He added that with volunteers, it’s often unclear how many will come each week and what tasks will get done…

Jeffrey Goldfarb, a member of Young Israel of Kings Bay, in Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay, helped his congregation put together applications and forms for aid. The building incurred $70,000 in damages and recently reopened its main sanctuary through the use of borrowed funds. “The minute I saw the bill, I thought it was interesting,” he said. “I thought it was a great thing to do, but it’s just terrible that it’s taken this long.”

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: aresauburn via flickr

The piles of money are coming, just not right away. The New York Times is reporting that the first round of federal aid totaling $1.77 billion will be distributed to rebuild homes devastated by Superstorm Sandy in the early summer.

As we reported earlier in the month, the money, coming in the form of Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs), has been approved. The Times explained how the money will be divided and who is getting it.

The biggest chunk of money, $648 million, will go to programs to rebuild homes and make them more storm-resistant, according to the city’s plan. That amount also includes $9 million for rental subsidies for up to 24 months intended mostly for low-income renters and people at risk of homelessness.

The rest of the money approved by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development will be spent in several ways: $360 million on city infrastructure, $294 million on investments to make the city more resilient to storms and $293 million on loans, grants and other programs for businesses.

The money is not expected to address all of the recovery expenses but more federal dollars are on the way later in the year. This first round of spending is designed to allow the city to spend the cash on those who need it the most.

“The most significant portion of the funding is for housing recovery programs,” Caswell F. Holloway, the city’s deputy mayor for operations, told the Times. “The biggest step forward in bringing neighborhoods back is to help people get in their homes.”

If you want to apply for grants you can do so by calling 311 or by visiting nyc.gov. Applications for business owners will be up on the city website starting this month and in June for homeowners.

Those who apply for the housing programs will be assigned a “recovery specialist” who will determine eligibility and financial need, a process which city officials promise will only takes a few weeks.

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries

At a community press briefing, Congressional Representative Hakeem Jeffries expressed concern that FEMA was treating disaster-stricken areas in New York as generic disaster zones, inconsiderate of New York’s unique circumstances, according to a report by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

After Superstorm Sandy devastated much of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island late last October, FEMA distributed guidelines designed to prepare New Yorkers for future storms. According to Jeffries, many of these guidelines simply aren’t logical considering the reality of New York’s layout and community design. Jeffries argued that when it comes to legislating and preparing for future storms, that there would be a need for “New York solutions to New York problems.”

According to Jeffries, FEMA has recommended that homeowners in vulnerable areas elevate the foundations of their homes. This recommendation makes sense for houses located in areas where there is wide space between homes, but not for Brooklyn, where houses are crammed together. Jeffries argues that the foundation of one house cannot be altered without affecting the foundation of the houses next to it.

FEMA also recommended that homeowners in flood zones keep their basements unoccupied. Jeffries also slammed this recommendation as impractical.

“In New York, many homeowners either have relatives living in the basement, or rent out basement apartments so they can have more money to pay the mortgage,” the Daily Eagle reported Jeffries saying.

Instead of placing the burden entirely on homeowners to create costly protections for their homes, Jeffries called for new offshore barriers to prevent the flooding of beachfront lands. He also recommended that barriers be erected between separate bodies of water to limit the power of storm surges.

The House of Representatives voted by a wide margin to approve the use of federal funds to repair and rebuild religious institutions damaged by Superstorm Sandy, according to a report by the New York Times.

Receiving intense lobbying by Catholic and Jewish groups, the bill was passed 354-to-72. Support for the measure was largely bipartisan, while opposition consisted of 66 Democrats and six Republicans. The Times laid out the scope of the bill’s language:

Under the bill, “a church, synagogue, mosque, temple or other house of worship, and a private nonprofit facility operated by a religious organization,” would be eligible for federal disaster assistance “without regard to the religious character of the facility or the primary religious use of the facility.”

According to the Times, FEMA raised serious objections to the bill, issuing a memorandum claiming that its passage represents an “enormous departure” from current law.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who represents parts of Coney Island, Borough Park and Bensonhurst, opposed the bill on grounds that using taxpayer money to fund the reconstruction and furnishing of religious buildings was unconstitutional.

Nadler’s opposition potentially foreshadows a legal showdown between civil liberty groups and religious advocates in the near future:

The American Civil Liberties Union agreed [with Nadler], saying it was a bedrock principle of constitutional law that “taxpayer funds cannot go to construct, rebuild or repair buildings used for religious activities.”

Lawyers at the emergency management agency expressed concern about possible lawsuits by the civil liberties union and others. “FEMA expects that well-financed and aggressive litigation and injunctions would quickly follow enactment of this bill,” agency lawyers said in their memorandum.

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