November 30, 2012
Mayor Michael Bloomberg travelled to Washington D.C. on Wednesday, November 28 to meet with House and Senate leaders to argue the city’s case for urgent federal dollars to rebuild. But the city’s request comes at a time when the Congress and President are at loggerheads over reducing the country’s deficit. Bloomberg was upbeat that Congress will act, but Sen. Charles Schumer was cautious, saying it will be a long road to secure the large sums of money.
The implications for New Yorkers if Congress and President Obama can’t avert the fiscal cliff couldn’t be starker. Bloomberg said that New York needs about $42 billion to recover from the damage, on top of $15 billion worth of public and private losses not covered by private insurance, which he’s asking FEMA to cover 100 percent. Bloomberg is hopeful because of New York’s incredible contribution to the nation’s economy.
“Because consider this: We’re just 2.6 percent of the nation’s population but we do generate 4.3 percent of America’s gross annual domestic product,” said the Mayor.
But Sen. Schumer said the old days are over.
“There’s no doubt this is going to be a hard fight. We have a Congress that’s decidedly less friendly to disaster aid in any in 100 years. We’re in the middle of very strenuous negotiations over the fiscal cliff and we know that money is short in Washington just at is in New York,” said Schumer.
New York’s congressional delegation is seeking supplemental appropriations to fund the recovery. Schumer said he expects the first to arrive by early next week.
“Last night [Tuesday], Senators [Kirsten] Gillibrand, [Robert] Menendez, [Frank] Lautenberg and I met with Secretary Shaun Donovan late into the night to stress the scale of the damage and for the administration to be aggressive in seeking aid. We’ll need several supplements, but we want the first to be as large as it can, and that number will grow.”
He noted also that on Wednesday evening he and the Mayor would be meeting with the head of the Office of Management and Budget, “the man with the hands on the till who tends to be a little less generous.”
Schumer stressed that the delegation is not asking for things that go beyond the pale because it could hurt the overall package.
“We want to do it right,” said Schumer.
The concern for Schumer is that the feds craft the legislation that gives New York the flexibility it needs to distribute aid. For example, the cap to aid homeowners for repairs in the wake of disasters is $31,900.
“Language in the supplemental appropriations must give states, cities and counties flexibility in how they spend the money. Already 300,000 homes in New York City are severely damaged or destroyed. The current cap will be woefully inadequate because homes, and the cost to repair them, are more expensive in New York than the rest of the country,” said Schumer.
Congress used to be able to insert particular language in appropriation bills, but new earmark rules require the President to propose it.
“We’re meeting with the administration early and often to ensure the supplemental package reflects the flexibility we need,” Schumer said.
He pointed to four hospitals—Long Beach Medical Center, NYU Hospital, Bellevue Hospital and Coney Island Hospital—that have empty beds due to damage but are still paying their staff.
“There’s no program for disaster aid to help hospitals. They have no income and they can go broke. Again, we need flexibility to help these hospitals stay on their feet.”
Schumer and Bloomberg were asked if they were worried that Congress would require offsets (cuts to other federal programs) for the disaster aid without deepening the national debt.
“Congressman [Peter] and Congressman [Michael] Grimm both said to me that House Speaker [John] Boehner said to them that he doesn’t believe offsets would be necessary,” said Schumer.
They were also asked whether any disaster aid relief would be contingent upon ceding ground in talks over the fiscal cliff.
“Look, everything we’re discussing with the fiscal cliff is offsets. It’s unfortunate they’re occurring together; certainly we’re trying to separate disaster relief aid from the fiscal cliff negotiations,” Schumer said.
While Schumer commended the Mayor for meeting with Congressional leaders to impress upon them the breadth and depth of damage to New York, he implored local politicians in all five boroughs whose constituents bore the brunt of the storm to also come to Washington.
“We believe our [Congressional] colleagues have been receptive, but there’s a long road to go; there’s going to be many pitfalls along the way. This fight will not last weeks, but months.”