Sandy Recovery Package Stalls in House; Burden Now Moves to New Congress

A FEMA Corps team detailed to FEMA Logistics helps sort ready meals to be deployed in preparations to Hurricane Sandy. (Photo by Daniel Llargues/FEMA)A FEMA Corps team sorts ready meals before Sandy's landfall.While Congress was able to reach a compromise to avoid the fiscal cliff, no deal was afforded to the Hurricane Sandy recovery legislation. The $60.4 billion relief package was approved by the Senate on December 28 by a 62-32 vote, but the House of Representatives canceled plans to take up the issue, with no votes on either the Senate plan or a separate House bill. With the lame-duck session of Congress now over, the Senate agreement cannot proceed. The 113th Congress, sworn in on January 3, must now start from scratch to provide supplemental aid for post-Sandy recovery. The Senate is set to re-approve the same relief package in the new Congress. Twelve Senate Republicans joined with Democrats in approving the measure, eight of whom are returning in the new Congress.

The $60.4 billion package included $17 billion for community development block grants, $9.7 billion to support additional payments from the National Flood Insurance Program, $5.3 billion for Army Corps flood control and beach replenishment projects, and $12 billion for transportation repairs and improvements.

The transportation funds include $10.8 billion for the Federal Transit Administration’s Public Transportation Emergency Relief Program, a new program created by July’s transportation bill that had previously not received any appropriations. As much as half of these funds may be used to improve the extreme weather resiliency of the public transportation infrastructure in the affected region. This critical provision will allow transit systems to go beyond basic repairs so that systems can reduce their overall risk to future storms.

The decision by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and his leadership team not to schedule a vote on the aid package drew strong criticism from the White House, governors, and lawmakers from both parties, particularly those from Sandy-affected states. In response, the House has now made plans to vote on January 4 to provide $9.7 billion to the National Flood Insurance Program, and then hold a separate vote on the aid package for the remaining $51 billion on January 15.

The Hurricane Sandy recovery legislation looks likely to contain billions to support strategies that will improve resiliency to future extreme storms within the affected regions. Sandy, however, underlined the need for storm-related risk mitigation strategies throughout the country. Citing this, Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced legislation on December 19 that would provide tools and information to state and local governments to assist in developing and improving infrastructure to be more resilient to extreme weather. The bill, known as the Strengthening The Resiliency of Our Nation on the Ground (STRONG) Act (S.3691), expired with the start of the new Congress, and is likely to be reintroduced.

Update: Congress passed a bill on January 4 authorizing $9.7 billion for the National Flood Insurance Program. The bill (H.R. 41) passed the House by a 354-67 vote. All votes against the legislation came from House Republicans. The Senate then quickly approved the bill by unanimous voice vote.