No action on US superstorm aid
Washington - The current term of the U.S Congress was set to end Thursday with no action on aid for the superstorm that left more than 100 dead and thousands homeless in the Northeast two months ago, and the New York and New Jersey governors called it “inexcusable.”
President Barack Obama on Wednesday also pressured the House of Representatives to act on one of the worst storms ever to hit the country's most highly populated region.
Republicans and Democrats from New York and New Jersey lashed out at the leader of the House, Speaker John Boehner, for withdrawing legislation on billions of dollars of Superstorm Sandy aid, demanding that he allow a vote as their constituents continue to struggle with the aftermath of the late October storm.
Sandy was blamed for at least 120 deaths and battered coastline areas from North Carolina to Maine. The storm damaged or destroyed more than 72,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey. In New York, 305,000 housing units were damaged or destroyed and more than 265,000 businesses were affected.
Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey said in a joint statement the “continued inaction and indifference” by the House was a “dereliction of duty.”
Just hours after he put off a vote, Boehner was scheduled to meet privately with Republican lawmakers from the two states. The speaker also was being pressured on the other side by conservative Republican lawmakers who want to offset any increase in spending.
The House also was exhausted by voting the night before on a deal to avert the “fiscal cliff” of deep spending cuts and tax increases that would have hit without Congress coming to an agreement. Many House Republicans were angry about the deal, saying it didn't include enough spending cuts.
The new Congress is seated Thursday, meaning new efforts to line up support for billions of dollars in aid were likely to be delayed because dozens of new members have to be seated.
Obama said in a written statement that many people in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were trying to recover from the storm and need “immediate support with the bulk of winter still in front of us.”
The Senate approved a $60.4 billion measure Friday to help with recovery from the storm. The House Appropriations Committee has drafted a smaller, $27 billion measure, and a vote had been expected before Congress' term ends Thursday at noon.
Rep. Peter King, a Republican, called the House inaction a “cruel knife in the back” to New and New Jersey. He said some Republicans have a double standard when it comes to providing aid to New York and New Jersey compared with other regions of the country suffering disasters.
He said those same Republicans have no trouble coming to New York and New Jersey to raise millions of dollars in political support.
King also said Congress approved $60 billion for the devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2005 within 10 days. Katrina left 1,800 people dead.
More than $2 billion in federal funds has been spent so far on Sandy relief efforts for 11 states and the District of Columbia. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund still has about $4.3 billion, enough to pay for recovery efforts into early spring, according to officials.
New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, District of Columbia, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New Hampshire, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are receiving federal aid. - Sapa-AP