Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Sandy Relief Won't Be Cut by Sequester, FEMA Chief Says

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Sandy Relief Won't Be Cut by Sequester, FEMA Chief Says

Article excerpt

Victims of superstorm Sandy will not see disaster benefits reduced, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Wednesday, even though the across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester trimmed the government's main disaster fund by $928 million two weeks ago.

Administrator Craig Fugate told the House homeland security appropriations subcommittee that FEMA programs that help individual Sandy victims would not be affected by the sequester's cuts, and that he believed funding for public-sector recipients such as municipalities and hospitals would be OK as well.

FEMA issued a report this week that showed that even after the budget cut, it expects to have $2.5 billion unspent in the disaster fund at the end of this fiscal year on Sept. 30.

But while Fugate's report to one House subcommittee hearing is good news for victims, a North Jersey congressman heading a later hearing said the Obama administration does not appear to be moving fast enough on Shore protection projects.

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, chairman of the energy and water projects appropriations subcommittee, questioned officials of the Army Corps of Engineers about a status report on Sandy projects released this week.

"The report calls for more studies, on many projects already studied, and for the consideration of new policies that appear to be of the [White House] Office of Management and Budget's making rather than the corps'," said Frelinghuysen, R-Morris. "We need less examination and additional reviews and more action restoring our coastlines and communities before summer is upon us."

After Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh began to say the corps was looking at some projects to ensure they conform with "smart resilience," Frelinghuysen interrupted him.

"What does that mean? Don't we assume everything the corps does has a degree of resilient smartness to it?" he said. "Many communities along the Shore want measures put in now. You're talking in a way that there's no immediacy here."

His comments show that even though the pressure to cut federal spending may mean some long-term projects are never done, state officials want promised federal dollars to start flowing quickly, especially along the Shore with summer approaching.

Frelinghuysen sponsored a major portion of the $60 billion Sandy relief package, which included more than $5.35 billion for corps projects. The sequester is reducing that amount by $267 million, Army Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy said, but she did not provide any information about what projects would go unbuilt because of the cut.

Another major part of the spending bill was block grants controlled by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Governor Christie on Tuesday announced he is seeking to use the first $1.8 billion installment of that money to help repair and elevate storm-damaged homes and provide incentives for owners not to abandon ravaged properties. …

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