Federal officials said Wednesday that New York State has crossed a critical threshold needed to receive millions of dollars more in federal superstorm Sandy aid.
Federal law requires FEMA to pay at least 75 percent of eligible costs after a disaster. But once federal aid reaches $133 per resident, or about $2.5 billion in New York, FEMA can increase the federal share to 90 percent.
FEMA officials said Wednesday that the threshold is passed, meaning state officials must now request the extra funding. President Barack Obama can then direct FEMA to raise the federal cost share to 90 percent.
The 90-percent share, if approved, would be applied retroactively to local governments' earlier reimbursement requests, FEMA officials said.
Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray said the extra money is critical because her town's Sandy bill will easily exceed $50 million -- meaning the higher federal cost share would save taxpayers more than $7.5 million.
"If the federal government does not pay for the lion's share of superstorm recovery costs, we are in big trouble on Long Island and in downstate New York," Murray said at a news conference in Freeport.
State officials will request the extra funding as soon as Thursday, said Peter Cutler, spokesman for the state Division of Homeland Security. He added that the money is critical for "affected communities in the state as they continue their recovery from Sandy."
Attempts to reach White House representatives were not successful.
Obama "makes the ultimate decision," said FEMA spokesman Lars Anderson.
Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci said the extra funding would mean at least $6 million more for his town, while Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy said his village would be on the hook for an extra $2 million without it. Both called for Obama to release the extra money.
"This was a storm that will be remembered for generations. We don't want to pay for it for generations," Croci said.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday during the news conference that it is important for FEMA to move swiftly on the request so New York taxpayers are not left with a heavy Sandy bill.
"We all know our taxes in New York State are so high that we don't need this additional burden," Schumer said.
With Sarah Crichton