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Cuomo urges: Apply for Sandy infrastructure aid

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Wednesday urged Sandy-scarred communities to compete for $500 million in federal grants aimed at making buildings, roads, bridges and other infrastructure better able to withstand natural disasters.

Local governments, Indian tribes and nonprofit groups that serve critical functions, such as providing emergency shelter, can apply for the FEMA grants, state officials said.

Potential projects include improvements to utilities, communications systems, emergency services and storage areas for hazardous substances, according to the state's Recovery Resources Center.

One possible idea is to use some of the money to install emergency generators at public shelters across the state, officials said.

Improvements that are part of the recovery from a trio of devastating storms -- superstorm Sandy last October, and Tropical Storm Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011 -- have priority. Other projects in storm-prone areas can also qualify.

"These funds will provide financial assistance to communities statewide to rebuild and improve our resiliency, as part of the state's ongoing work to ensure that we are better prepared to protect New Yorkers, strengthen facilities and infrastructure, and maintain critical services," Cuomo said when the grants were announced last week.

Through a different program, FEMA parcels out grants that can pay for 75 percent to 90 percent of rebuilding costs and some improvements to infrastructure.

New York State has qualified for the 90 percent reimbursement rate, because of the severity of the storm damage.

There is a July 5 deadline to apply at for the new assistance -- formally known as "hazard mitigation grants." The state Office of Emergency Management draws up a list of projects that then is reviewed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"We must not only repair and rebuild, we have to make sure roads, bridges, schools and houses are less susceptible to damage from the next storm, and these hazard mitigation grants are a key part of that puzzle," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

Schumer promised to make sure that proposed projects are approved swiftly, so that "protections" are in place before the next major storm strikes.

Proposed projects will be judged on whether they are cost-effective, officials said. While individual homeowners or businesses cannot apply, local governments or agencies can do so on their behalf.

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