New York’s flood recovery efforts have been promised an influx of money this week, as Congress has appropriated billions of dollars for relief efforts related to Tropical Storms Irene and Lee.
Included in the more than $2.5 billion of aid is $40 million designed specifically for the state’s farming community, which was added to the final package by members of New York’s Congressional delegation. With the exception of the farm aid, it is not clear how much of the total package New York will receive.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, who voted against the initial funding package “because it had zero additional dollars for additional farm assistance,” said the appropriation represented a good step forward.
“Just looking at the visuals of the impact,” he said of his tours after the flooding, “it was a very forceful reminder that something had to be done to give farmers access to their land.”
Tonko said his farm relief proposal ended up serving as the inspiration for the farm aid directed to New York. It was tacked onto the package as an amendment.
U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, advanced the amendment that was attached to the final bill in the Senate. The amendment includes $3 million to repair farmland and $37 million as part of the Emergency Watershed Protection Program for flood mitigation on farmland.
Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie, whose entire district is in the rebuilding process, said the current challenges outstrip the resources now available. “Any additional aid we can secure is very much needed,” he said.
But Lopez suggested more money will be needed than what has been appropriated. He noted that the state had already burned quickly through $12 million dedicated to repairing farmland and that individual farms were requesting close to a million dollars in funding.
“Three million is very much welcome, but it will be gone in an eye blink,” he said.
The $37 million being dispersed through the EWP, primarily for flood mitigation, was viewed favorably by Lopez, who said county teams have already begun to prioritize how to spend that money.
The relief package included $200 million for economic development, which is designed to retain or attract jobs to affected regions. Lopez said that investment is “huge,” especially when it comes to keeping communities from becoming ghost towns. “If you think the hurricane is bad,” he said,” wait until you lose 1,200 jobs.”
Assemblyman George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, also was supportive of the economic development focus of the funds, but expressed concerns about the future extent of the federal role in relief efforts. He said that federal officials were on camera after the storms hit and hopes they’ll all be working tirelessly behind the scenes in the future.
His big concern, aside from responding the immediate damage, was flood mitigation efforts in the future. He said Montgomery County has been focused on this issue since 2006 and steps need to be taken to prevent the next flood.
“When taxes are as high as they are on the federal and state level, people expect a return. They expect some services,” Amedore said.
Montgomery County Board of Supervisors Chairman Thomas Quackenbush said his county has a “whole bunch of million dollar projects” that he feels deserve a piece of this federal money.
In particular, he had his sights set on the $1.66 billion for Federal Highways Administration Emergency Relief Program. This money will be appropriated by each affected state’s Department of Transportation and will be geared toward federal-aid highways that were damaged.
“To me the number one issue is infrastructure,” Quackenbush said. “Any infrastructure work would be important.”
Quackenbush, who has been pleased with the speed of the federal relief response so far, did worry that it could be many months until these infrastructure projects are under way.
U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, said he had been told that the state’s appropriation could be dispersed by the end of the calendar year, which he found to be “very encouraging.”
He described the farm aid as critical money that would build on the steps the state has already taken.
Gibson was also excited about $400 million for Community Development Block Grants, which he said were part of a holistic approach to recovery. He highlighted Prattsville and its comprehensive flood recovery plan, because that will help them compete for rebuilding funds.
“This is a comprehensive relief package that is going to go a long way,” Gibson said.
Tonko and Gibson encouraged anyone in their districts in need of help to pursue the new funds and contact their offices for any help.
“This is our attempt to restore communities back to normal as greatly as possibly,” Tonko said.
As of Nov. 18, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had allocated $235 million in aid to New York residents.
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Categories: Schenectady County