Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Obama to seek £31bn superstorm aid

A tattered flag in the storm-damaged Queens borough of New York (AP/Kathy Willens)

Barack Obama is to ask Congress for about 50 billion dollars (£31 billion) in additional emergency aid for states devastated by Superstorm Sandy, Democrats said.

Housing secretary Shaun Donovan told a Senate Appropriations sub-committee that the administration was still working on a request for a supplemental spending bill to provide the aid and expects to send it to Congress this week.

"We do not have a specific number," Mr Donovan said.

The price tag is expected to be anywhere between 45 and 55 billion dollars. Two Senate Democratic aides put the number in the region of 50 billion. "The President isn't going to leave New York, New Jersey or the entire region to fight for itself," Mr Donovan, who is co-ordinating the government's Sandy recovery efforts for Mr Obama, said after the hearing.

He urged Congress to take action in "the next few weeks" on the administration's forthcoming request.

On Tuesday the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Craig Fugate, said the government's disaster relief fund still had 4.8 billion dollars, enough to pay for recovery efforts into early spring. So far the government has spent about two billion dollars in the 11 states struck the late October storm, one of the worst ever in north-east America.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are together seeking about 83 billion dollars in aid. Mr Donovan described that figure as more of damage estimate, saying some of might be covered by private insurance and other already-funded government programmes.

Given the recent budget talks and the strong pressures against new spending, Congress is not expected to approve large amounts of additional money all at once.

The storm devastated coastal communities from North Carolina to Maine, killing more than 120 people. New York and New Jersey were hit the hardest.

Mr Obama can request up to 5.4 billion dollars more without hitting a spending ceiling. Several Republicans have said that more than that should be matched by spending cuts in other federal programmes.