Sandy, transit aid increases: New York communities to get billions

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) speaks during a news Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jan. 15, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Local governments and transit agencies in New York got some good news Thursday relating to damage suffered from superstorm Sandy last fall, as federal legislators announced two major increases in federal aid to the state.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Harrison) announced that all government entities that suffered damage to facilities in the storm -- from municipalities on up to the state -- will now be reimbursed for 90 percent of the cost of repairs, rather than only 75 percent, the level of aid expected until Thursday.

Almost simultaneously, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced more than $3 billion in new grants for New York transit agencies, with $1.3 designated to help stormproof transit.

Lowey's office said that the congresswoman had received word of the change in the reimbursement policy -- a change she had pushed -- from the White House. Lowey said the change affects all of the aid being distributed to governments by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"This is a victory for communities across New York," said Lowey. "Not only did Sandy devastate homes, businesses and lives, the cost of the emergency response and cleanup has placed huge burdens on state and local governments."

Word of the change was welcome in the Hudson Valley.

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"I think the money is significant to our towns and villages and our county, especially with the county in the economic times we're in," said Chris Jensen, of the Rockland County Office of Fire and Emergency Services, which coordinated much of the county's response to the storm. "When you figure out the difference in reimbursement, it would be a significant dollar amount across the board . . . probably in the millions of dollars."

Mark Prentice, an aide to Lowey, explained that communities are still submitting paperwork to FEMA, so the total cost of Sandy damage and the effect of the change announced Thursday remain fluid. Prentice said that the change would be retroactive, dating back to Oct. 29, the day the storm struck. Where a county or municipality has received $1 million in reimbursements already, that entity will now receive an additional $150,000, Prentice said.

Ron Levine, spokesman for Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, praised Lowey and President Barack Obama for their efforts in helping local governments burdened with Sandy-related repairs.

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"Anything the federal government can do in terms of bringing dollars to the communities that were impacted, so there are less dollars to come from local municipalities, is more than welcome," said Levine. "Rockland was hit very hard and obviously this money has to come from someplace. When it doesn't have to come from the local taxpayer, it's a help."

$3.7 BILLION IN TRANSIT AID FOR NEW YORK

Meanwhile, Schumer announced an additional $3.7 billion in federal aid to transportation providers in New York, including the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Port Authority and the New York City Department of Transportation.

The MTA -- which runs Metro-North -- will get the largest slice of the pie: $2.6 billion. Some $1.3 billion of the total must be spent on hardening of transit infrastructure to minimize storm damage in the future, Schumer said. Schumer called elements of the new grants "resiliency funds."

"The funds for repairing and restoring the system will mean that the burden of recovering from Sandy is not put on the local commuter and taxpayer," Schumer said. "And the resiliency funds will make sure that the MTA will not have to jack up fares through the roof to fund the vital protections that will shield the system from the next storm."

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With Alfonso Castillo

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