By Daniel J. Weiss and Jackie Weidman
This afternoon the House of Representatives plans to debate and vote on a multibillion-dollar disaster aid package for Hurricane Sandy victims more than two months after the super storm devastated New Jersey and New York.
To placate conservative Republicans who don’t want to vote for the entire relief package, the aid provision is divided into two parts. Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) will offer a bare-bones bill that allocates $17 billion in funding mostly to meet immediate needs, including aid for individuals, community disaster relief and emergency transportation funding for affected areas in the two states.
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) will offer an amendment to add $33.6 billion to the Rogers bill. His supplemental package includes money for both immediate disaster relief and future community resilience projects. The latter programs are an essential investment to prevent or reduce damages from future climate-related extreme weather events. The just-released draft National Climate Assessment predicts that we face ever-worsening extreme weather. The report – authored by dozens of the country’s top climate experts – concluded that
“Sea level rise, combined with coastal storms, has increased the risk of erosion, storm-surge damage, and flooding for coastal communities, especially along the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic seaboard, and Alaska.”
Some of the resiliency provisions in Frelinghuysen’s amendment bill will help communities harmed by one of the 25 major extreme weather events that occurred during the last two years. (A full outline can be found here):
- $19.8 billion to rebuild critical infrastructure and fund community development block grants for Sandy-affected areas and other places harmed by extreme weather events between 2011 and 2013
- $4 billion for coastal restoration and sustainability initiatives that would improve flood control systems for storm-damaged areas
- $1.2 billion for storm-damage repairs to national parks and other public lands, as well as water infrastructure upgrades
- $513 million to improve weather forecasting and hurricane predictions, and to support recovery efforts for coastal communities
- $218 million for restoration, flood prevention, and watershed repairs of damaged agriculture lands
Lawmakers proposed over 90 amendments to the bill, but the House Rules Committee voted to keep them most of them off of the House floor. This included an amendment by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) that would have required the Army Corps of Engineers to consider “projected sea-level rise attributable to human-caused climate change” when assessing coastal flood risks.
One amendment that representatives will vote on is offered by Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA). It would to cut $13 million designated to “accelerate the National Weather Service ground readiness project.” Notably, he sought funds for flood relief in Georgia in 2009.
Also in order is Rep. Mick Mulvaney’s (R-SC) amendment to offset the $17 billion for the immediate relief in Rogers’ bill by requiring an across-the-board cut of 1.63 percent for discretionary spending in 2013. It would provide Sandy recovery funds by slicing investments in education, cancer research, and drinking water infrastructure (among other programs). Rep. Peter King (R-NY) expressed outrage over the offset proposal because “there have never been offsets before to emergency aid.” Meanwhile, in 2011, Mulvaney personally received a Small Business Administration loan after a flood damaged his business.
Superstorm Sandy was one of 25 floods, droughts, heat waves, storms, and wild fires in 2011 and 2012 that caused at least $1 billion in damages each, with total damages up to $174 billion. The huge economic cost for these events heightens the urgency to increase investments in community resiliency. These investments will save lives and reduce the long-term costs associated with climate change. A study by the Multihazard Mitigation Council determined that
“Money spent on reducing the risk of natural hazards is a sound investment. On average, a dollar spent by FEMA on hazard mitigation (actions to reduce disaster loses) provides the nation about $4 in future benefits.”
The House of Representatives must pass the Frelinghuysen amendment and the Rogers bill because they provide long overdue relief to people harmed by Sandy while investing in meaningful community resilience to reduce damages from the coming storms and other climate related extreme weather events.
As Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Ranking Member of the Rules Committee, noted:
“It’s time to deliver long-overdue emergency assistance for victims of Superstorm Sandy without further delay or dysfunction… Never in the modern history of the United States have victims of a natural disaster waited this long – 78 days and counting – to receive federal aid.”