WASHINGTON -- The White House on Friday proposed $60.4 billion in federal disaster aid for damage to the Northeast from superstorm Sandy, an amount welcomed by New York's top lawmakers as "good news."
The proposed amount falls short of the combined $80 billion request from the two main aid recipients, New York and New Jersey, but Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said, "If we get this funding, it's going to be a significant asset for this state."
The White House's large funding request to Congress begins a hard road to passage amid tense negotiations over the "fiscal cliff," with the Bush tax cuts expiring and billions in automatic spending cuts if Congress doesn't act by year's end.
In its letter to Congress requesting the aid, the White House noted the severity of the storm damage five weeks ago, saying "current projections are that Sandy is on track to be the second or third most costly natural disaster in U.S. history."
The proposal is not broken down by state, but includes $15 billion for community development block grants, $9.7 billion to pay federal flood insurance claims, $6.2 billion for public transportation repairs, and about $13 billion for mitigation, or projects to reduce risk of future disaster damage.
Broadly, the aid would be used for repairing housing, helping small businesses, reimbursing local governments for storm expenses, underwriting studies and plans, and fortifying coastal areas.
"This is a very big positive step and . . . while not everything we've asked for, this is really going to make a major dent," Cuomo said.
The "two big victories" in the aid package are flexibility in spending and money specifically for mitigation, said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Both are important to Long Island, he said in an interview.
Most Long Island homeowners will need more than the FEMA aid capped at $31,900 to repair their homes, he said. Normally, their higher incomes would bar them from being eligible for community development block grants -- but under the aid package, they can tap those funds.
And with money included specifically for reconstructing dunes, he said, homeowners will not have to abandon Long Island's southern shore.
Cuomo said he hopes Congress acts quickly, so the state can plan for its budget due in February and homeowners can start rebuilding.
"We hope to have this passed in the Senate, God willing, knock on wood, two weeks from today," Schumer said.
It will take five to six days just to draft the legislative language to make it law, he said.
"It's no easy job," he said, noting that many Republicans, particularly in the House, are against disaster aid.
New York and New Jersey's senators said this will be the first of several funding requests, similar to the still-continuing funding for Louisiana and Mississippi seven years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005.
SANDY RELIEF REQUEST
The bulk of the proposed $60.4 billion in federal aid will go to hard-hit areas of New York and New Jersey. Highlights:
$15 billion< /> in community development block grants to state and local governments for housing repair or replacement, Small Business Administration disaster loans, public infrastructure investments and community development projects in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.
$11.5 billion to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for aid to disaster survivors, rebuilding public infrastructure and other activities.
$9.7 billion in borrowing authority for the National Flood Insurance Program. Borrowing currently is capped at $20.7 billion.
$6.2 billion to repair infrastructure of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, New Jersey Transit, the New York City Department of Transportation and other transit providers.
$3.2 million for erosion control and repair at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center.
SOURCE: WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET