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.
Source: Wikimedia Commons via Wikipedia
Well, it took a verbal smack down from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and an all out general hatred of Congress for it to happen, but Congress finally did their jobs Tuesday night and passed the $50.7 billion aid package for Superstorm Sandy relief according to a report in the New York Times.
The effort passed 241 to 180, with 49 Republican lawmakers responsibly crossing party lines to join the 192 Democrats in favor of the measure. Congress had already passed a $10 billion aid package earlier this month, bringing the total aid package north of $60 billion.
Sixty billion is a large number, but still short of the total $82 billion in damages calculated by the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Still, the money will go a long way to in helping the area get back on its feet, according to the Times:
The emergency aid measure would help homeowners whose homes have been damaged or destroyed, provide assistance to business owners who experienced losses as well as reinforce shorelines, repair subway and commuter rail systems, fix bridges and tunnels, and reimburse local governments for emergency expenditures.
As we’ve previously reported, much of the recovery for home and business owners cannot begin until the Federal FEMA money starts rolling into people’s hands. Hopefully, the passage of this bill will set off a wave of rebuilding.