Federal Relief Costs Likely to Be Big, and Contested
The first trickle of federal funds has started to go out following Hurricane Sandy — $29 million to rebuild highways, $16 million to hire temporary workers to help with the cleanup. But lawmakers are just beginning to tally what is certain to be a multibillion-dollar bill for the federal government, at a time of fiscal restraint.
At least initially, New York, New Jersey and other states most affected by Hurricane Sandy will be spared the traditional fights in Washington over disaster assistance, thanks to a little-noticed provision in last year’s budget agreement that arose from the debt-ceiling fight and resulted in Congress setting aside roughly $12 billion for disaster relief.
The Federal Emergency Management Office has $7.5 billion to spend this fiscal year, and an additional $5 billion could be made available, with no spending offsets required in other government programs.
While that will help in the short term, the East Coast states hit by the giant storm will almost certainly request billions in additional federal dollars, which would require appropriations by Congress and could set off partisan — or geographic — wrangling and stir longstanding concerns about fraud and waste.