While all eyes have been looking to Congress to resolve a standoff around the country’s budget and taxes, tragically the victims of Hurricane Sandy have been left out in the cold. In the tumult of the fiscal cliff debate, a bill to provide aid funding fell to the wayside last night which means those affected by the storm in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut face further delays in getting the money to rebuild communities, homes and transportation systems. Congress must get to work today to approve federal disaster aid!
Typically Congress approves federal disaster aid with great efficiency. Only days after Hurricane Katrina, the Senate approved billions in aid during a voice vote, a move signaling strong bipartisan support for the aid package. Two months later and counting, those affected by Hurricane Sandy have yet to receive federal aid, despite the estimated $50 billion -$60 billion in damages from 1,000 mile radius storm that affected a broad swath of the East Coast.
Opponents of the federal aid have argued that the private sector should fulfill the government’s role in providing disaster aid, but federal funding – when strategically allocated – can deliver the most for taxpayers’ money. Rebuilding communities is the immediate need we must meet, but federal aid will also stimulate local economies and create necessary jobs along the way.
The effect of aging infrastructure was exposed by the storm in a way we’ve never seen before. Last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave our nation’s infrastructure a grade of D, and in many key areas, such as storm water management, a D-. ASCE estimates our five-year investment needs to be in the range of $1.5 to $2 trillion. The rising sea level on the East Coast over the last 100 years is a well-documented effect of climate change, but almost nothing has been spent on preparing for these effects.
Subways, tunnels and roads in and out of Manhattan that serve millions were shut down due to flooding from erosive salt water. Many of these systems are back up and running but in desperate need of repairs. Coastal cities such as New York simply cannot cope with worse storms on higher seas.
Recognizing the reality of climate change with additional preventive measures will save money and provide a protective barrier for the human population. Rising sea levels are a reality that demand stronger sea walls for example. While we’re rebuilding in New York and New Jersey, it’s important to incorporate these changes in construction plans.
For example, the federal aid package for Hurricane Sandy allocates $13 billion to our coastal areas. This money will get them back in good repair and ready to weather storms in the future, foreseeing more extreme weather on account of climate change.
Public transportation is a powerful weapon in the fight against climate change to alleviate pollution. Hurricane Sandy highlighted our reliance on it. Transit ridership is at record levels and areas affected by Sandy account for nearly 80 percent of the nation’s transit travel. Amtrak is vital to the East Coast economy and had its highest ridership ever (more than 31 million passengers and $2 billion in revenue) in 2012. These systems still need critical investment to get people to work and school in the aftermath of the storm. We must also to make sure they are in good working order for the long haul because growing ridership will make these systems even more economically viable.
Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Agriculture funding is needed to rebuilding our ports and waterways, and will ensure clean water, sewage treatment, and clean up toxic spills due to the hurricane, as well as repair flood damage, strengthen flood control systems, and restore economic vitality to East Coast farms and ports.
Our patience with partisan bickering is wearing thin, especially wherever there is human suffering. Congress must pass federal disaster aid immediately.