Sandy relief money to trickle out, not gush

Jose Diaz, 64, a day laborer from Freeport, Jose Diaz, 64, a day laborer from Freeport, rips out flooring to avoid mold growth for Massapequa homeowner Katie Linkner, whose home was flooded by superstorm Sandy. (Nov. 13, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Danielle Finkelstein

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WASHINGTON -- Long Islanders won't see much money any time soon from the $50.5 billion superstorm Sandy relief funding approved last week in Washington, three months after the storm hit, several officials said.

The aid package, which by design mostly contains funding for construction projects to rebuild damaged infrastructure and to prepare for future storms, will be spent over a decade, the Congressional Budget Office estimated last week.

The signing of the aid package into law by President Barack Obama on Jan. 29 formally began a process that has been under way for weeks, and that could go for weeks longer, officials said.

"The Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force has been working with partner agencies and state and local officials to identify unmet needs in the region," task force spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said.

Aides to Obama, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and the Nassau and Suffolk county executives declined to discuss specific timelines for the aid.

Most of the aid package faces months or even years for planning, approval and contracting before work can begin, Senate and local officials said.

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That funding includes $16 billion for community development block grants; $13 billion for roads, railroads and mass transit systems; and more than $5 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers' work on beaches, coasts and waterways.

The one big piece of the aid package that will be tapped immediately will be nearly $11.5 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund that FEMA will use to continue delivering individual assistance and other relief programs without interruption.

The package also includes some money that can be delivered quickly for social services such as Head Start, SBA emergency loans and legal help for low-income storm victims.

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Still, only about $3.6 billion will be spent this year, the Congressional Budget Office said.

Donovan, who leads the task force, is expected as soon as next week to decide how to divide key pots of aid money among New York, New Jersey and the other 10 affected states.

The executives of Nassau and Suffolk counties met last week in Albany with Cuomo to talk about coordinating plans and requests for funding for recovery and rebuilding projects.

Still, the officials find themselves in a transition from focusing on immediate needs to the longer-term process of recovery and rebuilding.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he expects a faster use of the aid.

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The aid package cut red tape and added flexibility, based on lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina in 2007, making funds easier to access, he said.

With the aid now in place, governments and businesses can confidently go ahead with rebuilding plans knowing they'll be reimbursed, he said.

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