The House of Representatives held its first hearing on Hurricane Sandy, reviewing responses of federal agencies while also looking at the city’s need for housing in the wake of the storm. Washington D.C. bureau reporter Erin Billups filed the following report.
For almost three hours, members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee listened to statements and questioned agency heads about the federal response to Hurricane Sandy, and sought advice on how to move forward.
"There were gaps in the recovery operations, and there are many challenges that remain, particularly for a dense urban area like New York," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler.
New York's many housing needs took center stage. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate highlighted his agency’s partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), whose director is overseeing the federal response to Sandy recovery. He said it enables them to consider long-term housing solutions through existing HUD programs while simultaneously getting people temporary short-term help.
"If we're not successful, we'll end up like we did in Katrina, where people were in temporary housing units not for months but for years," Fugate said. "We want to avoid that."
Fugate said his agency is avoiding using trailers for temporary housing in the New York metropolitan area. Instead, he wants to focus on short-term repairs to keep people in their homes until permanent reconstruction can begin. The agencies hope to put others in need into rental properties.
"If we could put money back in the local economy, we'd much rather rent than have to do the temporary housing," Fugate said.
Meanwhile, the White House is putting together a supplemental bill that would appropriate more money to FEMA and other agencies helping in recovery efforts. New York State alone estimates a need of $40 billion.
Even with only $4.8 billion left in its Disaster Relief Fund, Fugate assured lawmakers FEMA would not run out of money until early spring.
"FEMA will need supplemental funds, not this calendar year but this fiscal year, in order to continue the response to all other disasters, as well as the obligations that will be expended in this fiscal year for Sandy," Fugate said.
Lawmakers said the supplemental bill will likely be sent to Congress for consideration this week.