WASHINGTON — Uncle Sam is picking up the full cost of providing emergency power and public transportation in areas hard hit by super storm Sandy, but lawmakers from the disaster area are asking the federal government to pick up the total bill for repairs to public infrastructure, too.
“This was not a New York disaster, or a New Jersey disaster or a Connecticut disaster, but a national disaster, and FEMA and the federal government should be providing help to the region to the full extent they can,’’ Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday.
He vowed to push Washington to reimburse the city and state for the "full costs of repair and recovery for all aspects of the disaster.”
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency pays at least 75% of the costs of emergency work, such as debris removal, and repairs or rebuilding public infrastructure, such as buildings, roads and transit stations. The remainder is paid for by local and state governments.
But Congress authorized the federal government to pay the full bill for repairing or rebuilding public infrastructure for the area around the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and in areas hard hit by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.
It’s too early to estimate the total cost of the damage to public infrastructure. But Congress could take up the issue as one of its first orders of business in a lame-duck session after Tuesday’s election.
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The money authorized Thursday will go to fund emergency power and public transportation for 10 days, including emergency repairs to power plants and power lines, and providing extra buses and overtime for the drivers, according to Schumer and his New York Democratic colleague Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
New Jersey’s Democratic senators, Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, in calling for the federal government to increase its share from 75% to 100%, cited the "extraordinary scope of this disaster."
"It’s hard to argue against helping people in times of great need," said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.
He said he was concerned, however, that Congress would attempt to attach other measures to a disaster aid bill. "When Congress spends money for a genuine emergency, they tend to add on unrelated items,"’ he said.
Yet, noting the senators’ arguments, Schatz said, "If they’ve done it before, it’s hard to say they shouldn’t do it this time."
Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense said the request should be carefully considered.
"The American public, and by extension the American taxpayer, is extremely sympathetic to the plight of those who lost so much in Hurricane Sandy," he said. "At the same time, our big hearts cannot lead to soft heads.
"Blanket federal spending can lead to reconstruction and rebuilding that isn’t in the community, the state or the federal government’s best interest," Ellis said. "Right now is a time for federal government to jump in and help as much as possible, but not be profligate with the checkbook.’’
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