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Senate Hearing on Staten Island Looks at Ways to Speed Up Sandy Relief

By Nicholas Rizzi | March 2, 2013 10:40am

FORT WADSWORTH — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called on FEMA to speed up recovery efforts by extending their assistance to Superstorm Sandy victims for a longer period, and by making insurance payouts flow quicker, at a senate field hearing on Friday.

The Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee hosted a field hearing to evalute the rebuilding efforts after Sandy at the Coast Guard base in Fort Wadsworth.

Gillibrand (D-New York) said money has not flowed to residents fast enough, and too much insurance money has been left sitting in escrow before going to Sandy victims.

“I think we have a long way to go, a lot of money hasn’t flowed yet,” Gillibrand said after her testimony. “I think we need more money and we need it more quickly.”

Gillibrand also asked FEMA, whose administrator William Craig Fugate gave a testimony at the committee, to extend the period during which they provide aid to victims, which is set to end on March 29, even longer, by 120 days.

“‘Im urging FEMA to extend temporary assistance for 120 days to eliminate that worry and anxiety [for residents],” she said during her testimony.

Aside from the extension, other speakers asked FEMA to make elevation zoning maps clearer to residents and to have emergency housing repair programs that are easier to start up.

“One of our key takeaways from Hurricane Sandy is that FEMA should institutionalize an expedited repairs program that is ready to go and easy to turn on, as needed, in any disaster,” said Brad Gair, director of the mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery Operations.

Another issued discussed at the hearing was the potential impact the sequestering cuts would have on recovery efforts, which were set to take affect Friday.

FEMA could potentially lose $1 billion or more of funding granted for storm recovery, Sen. Mary Landriue (D-Louisiana), chair of the subcommittee, said after the hearing. With the upcoming hurricane season for some states, the FEMA funds might have to be used to deal with those communities, slowing down ongoing recovery efforts like those from Sandy.

“The recovery will be slowed down if those accounts get too low and disasters that are going on, recoveries around the country, will be slowed,” Landriue said.

“People don't like to see yellow lights, they don't like to see red lights in a disaster, they like all things green going for their recovery. So it is something to worry about.”

Another major point discussed throughout the hearing was looking at ways to not only rebuild communities, but build them back stronger to be able to handle future potential storms.

“We all know that we are seeing the storm of the century over and over again, every single year,” Gillibrand said. “We have to be better prepared for the next, and rebuild not just better, but smarter.”