Furious that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development could divert some of the approximately $3.5 billion in aid expected to assist the victims of Hurricane Sandy in rebuilding — and area municipalities in preparing for future disasters — two congressmen representing Queens and a third from the Bronx said last Friday that the agency has agreed to meet with them to discuss the dispute.
Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens, Nassau), Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn, Queens) and Jose Serrano (D-Bronx) made the announcement during a press conference held in front of the steps to City Hall. It followed a letter that they, and 10 other members of New York’s congressional delegation, sent to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan April 22, after media reports led by the Wall Street Journal said the agency was considering diverting some of the funding to other areas of the country hit by natural disasters.
According to the congressmen, the money clearly was meant to be spent on rebuilding and strengthening communities struck by Sandy, even though the law allocating it said it could go toward responses to other natural disasters too. HUD reportedly is thinking of holding a nationwide competition for funding for “resiliency” plans, efforts to improve infrastructure to withstand storms and other disasters.
“It is clear, and no one in Washington, DC doubts that the primary purpose of that bill was to aid the victims of Hurricane Sandy,” Jeffries said at the press conference when asked about the bill’s actual language by the Queens Chronicle, the only media outlet to ask any questions at the event. “What HUD appears to be considering is the notion that, let’s have a resiliency competition all across the country. Why do that when we have resiliency needs in New York? Until those resilency needs are met ... there’s no need for a resiliency competition around the country.”
Serrano, who along with Meeks has been in Congress far longer than Jeffries, a freshman, added that there were Republicans who were reluctant to pass the Sandy aid bill, but did so understanding that its purpose was to fund rebuilding efforts here, and that other legislation would be needed to address disasters in other parts of the country, whether Midwest tornadoes or something like the fatal mudslide that recently struck Washington State.
“When the money finally was approved, it was understood it was for New York, Connecticut and New Jersey,” Serrano said.
Meeks, who led off the press conference, said, “It wasn’t an easy fight” to get the bill through. “It was a fight that took too long.”
And, he said, it is an “outrage” that HUD would consider shifting any of the funding without even consulting members of Congress from Sandy-impacted areas first.
“That cannot happen,” Meeks said. Referring to those harmed by the storm, he continued, “We’ll go back to Washington to make sure money we got to make them whole stays here in this area until everyone who was victimized by Superstorm Sandy is made whole again.”