WASHINGTON - While federal funding is crucial to repair the devastation from Hurricane Sandy, it is local government and private sector leaders who should be responsible for the distribution of those funds, speakers at a briefing on Superstorm Sandy reconstruction financing said Wednesday.
They stressed the importance of local and municipal leadership in disaster relief as efforts continue to fully recover from the October 2012 storm.
"Recovery is a very complex issue that takes federal, state, local and municipal input, and the private sector," said Donald Loren, moderator of the discussion and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for homeland security integration. "You cannot do it thinking it's the limits of the Beltway that can respond to this."
The Senate is expected to vote soon on a $51 billion relief package for the devastated areas in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. The House passed the bill Tuesday. Both chambers earlier approved about $9 billion in relief.
Asbury Park, N J., Mayor Ed Johnson said it's important to make sure money from the bill "plug into the needs of the people on the ground." Johnson pointed across the street to the Capitol Building and said that 80 days after Sandy hit, he and other mayors along the shoreline are still waiting for the "adults across the street to get along" so the mayors can get what they need and take the reconstruction forward.
"We can't do it for businesses or homeowners, we just need to give them the resources for them to help themselves," he said.
Johnson said it is important to "rebuild communities to withstand the 21st century storm," including the installation of dunes or sea walls or whatever a community deems necessary to keep seawater out next time.
Charles Kieffer, staff director for the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, said more than $10 billion in the bill will go to the Department of Transportation and the Department Housing and Urban Development to make improvements in infrastructure, a sticking point for some House Republicans who said infrastructure improvements should not be part of emergency relief.
Some of that money will be used to repair and upgrade rail systems and other infrastructure that is not necessarily vital to the lives of storm victims, critics said. The fiscally conservative group Club for Growth said in a statement, "Congress shouldn't use disasters like Hurricane Sandy as an excuse to spend billions on long-term projects that should be considered during the regular appropriations process."
But Kieffer said it was important to include those long-term appropriations to "rebuild better."
Loren said most of the infrastructure is privately owned, and so upgrades would need to be coordinated between government and private agencies.
"The public sector can only do so much," Loren said.
In addition, private organizations can go far in contributing to relief and rebuilding efforts. Rohan Matthew, co-founder of New Jersey-based The Intersect Fund, which works with micro-businesses, said his organization started a loan program for disaster-struck businesses. Eligible local businesses can receive up to $15,000 at a flat 5 percent fee to make repairs and stay afloat as the recovery efforts continue.
This story was written by Medill on the Hill. Medill on the Hill is a website that provides breaking news coverage of Congress and the White House, whose reporters are students at the Medill School of Journalism.