Disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy became a contested political issue when Congress, specifically the House of Representatives, delayed a vote to approve federal financial assistance to the states of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. The House adjourned in December 2012 without approving any federal aid. They reconvened on January 4, 2013 and passed a $9.7 billion flood insurance package and last week passed a $50.5 billion package to rebuild the hardest hit communities in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
The $9.7 billion package was passed by the Senate and President Obama signed the legislation into law; however, over 2 months after the Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast the $50.5 billion package has not yet been approved by the Senate. It is anticipated the measure will very soon be passed by the Senate and forwarded to President Obama for signage into law.
Historically, congressional votes on federal disaster aid have been bipartisan, but Republican opposition has caused strong disagreements, even within the Republican Party, concerning aid resulting from damage due to Hurricane Sandy.
The delay received criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike. Governor Chris Christie (R), said, “This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. Natural disasters happen in red states and blue states with Democratic governors and Republican governors. We respond to innocent victims of natural disasters not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans; or at least we did.” Representative John Runyan (R-NJ) said, “Never before has the House of Representatives taken so long to meet its obligations following a major disaster.”
In November 2012, the state of Florida applied for disaster relief funds for damages sustained to beaches and infrastructure in seven counties in the state of Florida as a result of Hurricane Sandy. The federal government turned down that request and also turned down a subsequent appeal by Governor Rick Scott’s administration.
In view of the federal denial of disaster relief funds, it is interesting several members of the House of Representatives from Florida voted against the aid package for Hurricane Sandy relief in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. Out of the 27 Representatives from Florida, 12, all Republicans, voted “no” to the $50.7 billion disaster aid package. Those Representatives are; Jeff Miller, Steve Southerland, Ted Yoho, Ron DeSantis, John Mica, Bill Posey, Daniel Webster, Richard Nugent, Gus M. Bilirakis, Dennis Ross, Vern Buchanan, and Trey Radel.
The response to the “no” votes was quick and harsh coming from a number of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut House members. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) said, “Disaster means disaster and emergency means emergency. What does the misery index have to get to for our constituents to receive aid. We were there for you Florida, when you had your hurricanes and God bless you if you think you are not going to have another hurricane.”
The state of Florida requested federal aid corresponding to damage from Hurricane Sandy and was denied twice. Subsequently, members of the House of Representatives from Florida voted against federal aid for other states that sustained substantially more damage from Hurricane Sandy. The “no” votes by Florida Republicans may be political gamesmanship or a vote of protest, but on its face, it appears to be the height of hypocrisy
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