Officials: Red tape stalling flood aid

Federal legislators are pressuring Washington officials to release $200 million in disaster recovery

Federal legislators are pressuring Washington officials to release $200 million in disaster recovery money that hasn’t hit the ground yet, even though it was approved by Congress three months ago.

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, joined state and local authorities in Schoharie on Monday to decry the bureaucratic “red tape” that’s stalling important grant and loan funding.

Schumer, whose last visit to Schoharie County featured the sad sight of people’s flood-ruined possessions lining the streets, said Monday’s visit showed progress is taking place, but more help is needed.

“I’ll never forget driving through Middleburgh and Schoharie … to see people’s whole entire lives heaped in front of their houses … it was just devastating,” he said.

“There’s a long way to go, and we need to stay on top of this until everything is finished.” Schumer said.

Numerous storefronts remain shuttered in Schoharie, one of several communities that took the brunt of historic flooding that came with tropical storms Irene and Lee.

“For sale” signs are featured on the front lawns of homes throughout the village, and state Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, said some people are still deciding whether they should “stay or go.”

As local business owners who picked themselves up after the flood struggle to cope with their debts, $200 million in aid is waiting for congressional committees to approve guidelines the U.S. Economic Development Administration would use to distribute it.

Schumer said the initial flow of disaster assistance was important, but the second wave of help is as urgent as the first.

“The bottom line is we’ve got to finish the job,” he said.

Schumer sent a letter to the chairmen of the Senate and House appropriations committees, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Kentucky, urging they “expedite your review of the EDA’s proposed guidance and give our communities the shot in the arm they need.”

Schumer outlined other federal assistance poured into the disasters so far: $86 million for state and local governments to rebuild roads and bridges, $308 million to individuals whose homes were destroyed, and $100 million in small business loans.

Another $40 million Schumer said he and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., secured hasn’t yet started flowing — that money will help pay farmers to rebuild and to pay for produce lost to the floods.

But getting that money approved in Congress isn’t easy. Tonko said some lawmakers resisted even approving money to help farmers.

The argument is over finding budget cuts to fill in the holes left by unplanned disaster assistance spending, an argument Tonko said shouldn’t be happening.

“We cut where we can but we invest where we must. This is a must investment,” he said. “People are struggling at this very moment to put their lives back together, to put their business back in operational mode, to get their lands back [in farming]. They need the respect of their government.”

The EDA distributes funding, such as the $200 million in question, in three general categories: strategic planning, infrastructure development and capital for alternative financing.

Strategic planning includes money and “technical assistance” developing economic development plans and strategies.

Infrastructure development programs provide grant money to build business incubators, technology parks and basic utilities like water treatment systems to retain or attract jobs.

The capital for alternative financing program provides money so that local governments can create revolving loan funds — money businesses can borrow below market rate to help them recover.

That means once the EDA is allowed to start releasing funds, localities will have to apply for them through the various programs.

Once those programs are established at the local level, local businesses will then be able to apply for some of that money.

Susan McGiver, owner of the Schoharie-based Harva Co., which maintained payroll for 26 workers in the aftermath of the flooding, said others in the region might not have that kind of time to wait.

“It’s going to be too late for a lot of businesses,” she said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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