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NY lawmakers: $50B in federal aid not enough

WASHINGTON -- New York lawmakers Wednesday said they'll push for a bigger disaster aid package for superstorm Sandy than the estimated $50 billion that reports say the White House is considering.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan told a Senate appropriations hearing Wednesday that the White House will submit its proposal to Congress this week but was still working on it. He said it was premature to discuss the final amount.

New York lawmakers had not seen a White House funding proposal as of Wednesday afternoon, their aides said.

But the New York and New Jersey congressional delegations balked after The New York Times and The Associated Press reported that White House and congressional sources said the request would be $45 billion to $55 billion.

New York and New Jersey alone have requested more than $80 billion for recovery aid and funding for protection from future severe storms. Nine other states were damaged by Sandy.

"While $50 billion is a significant amount of money, it unfortunately does not meet all of New York and New Jersey's substantial needs," said a statement from the two states' Democratic senators -- Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

"While we know there will be additional supplementals, the administration needs to come as close as possible to meeting our states' needs in the first request."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg declined to comment, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also deferred a response. "The White House has said that number is premature. So I will wait to find out exactly what they are saying," Cuomo said.

Reps. Pete King (R-Seaford) and Nita Lowey (D-Rye), leaders of a New York State task force on winning federal funding for Sandy aid, also rejected the reported amount as too low.

"Fifty billion dollars in disaster recovery funding would be insufficient to meet the severe needs faced by New York, New Jersey and other states affected by Tropical Storm Sandy," they said in a joint statement.

King said the White House needs to get as much money as possible now. "The further you get away from the date of the storm, the harder it is to get the funding," King said. "It's out of sight, out of mind."

At the Senate hearing Wednesday, Donovan, who is leading White House efforts on superstorm Sandy recovery, urged quick passage of the aid request.

When Lautenberg asked about reports of a $50 billion aid package, Donovan said, "I don't know where that report came from. The facts are we are still working on what our request will be."

But Donovan hinted that's the likely range, as he noted that New York and New Jersey requests for funds include some money already covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, flood insurance and private insurance. The White House request, he said, will focus on "what's left over."

Donovan and FEMA administrator Craig Fugate also said the White House funding request will not be the end of federal money for Sandy aid.

"We will provide with our request significant detail as to how we arrived at those costs," Donovan said. "There has been lots and lots of work done over the past month to get to as strong as possible an estimate."