Washington is playing hardball with Sandy aid money.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development is considering asking cities and states around the country that have suffered recent disasters to compete for more than $1 billion in aid from the federal Sandy aid bill, according to officials.
The proposal, first reported in The Wall Street Journal last week, is still preliminary. But it has incited some local officials who argue that money was always intended for New York and New Jersey — and not places like Joplin, Missouri, site of a devastating tornado three years ago, or the Coal Creek Canyon region outside Boulder, Colorado, that suffered major floods last fall.
“The federal government allocated that money, over $60 billion, to those states that were affected by this storm,” said City Councilman Mark Treyger, who represents Coney Island, at a City Hall rally Monday. “We have an obligation from the federal level to the state level to the local level to make sure that money will get into the hands of those victims as fast as possible.”
A HUD spokesman, Patrick Rodenbush, said no decision had been made.
The federal Sandy bill, despite its popular nickname, does not require that all of the $15.2 billion in HUD funds be spent on Sandy-affected areas, but allows them to go towards other areas declared disasters from 2011 to 2013. About $1 billion has already been steered towards Joplin, Boulder and other areas. In fact, that was one way the bill got enough votes to pass Congress — by appealing to a wide geographic area.
The move comes a few weeks after HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan criticized the pace of New York City's recovery. As of the end of March, New York City had spent about $386 million, according to a City Hall spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick. That's about one-eighth of the $3.2 billion the city has been allocated in Sandy-related HUD funds.
Normally, HUD awards a locality a certain amount of money and then that locality comes back with a proposed plan to spend it. A competition would work the other way around: eligible disaster areas — including, presumably, New York and New Jersey — would come up with ideas first, and those ideas would be funded based on their merits.
A report by a coalition of labor unions and religious groups said as many as 9,500 properties would not be repaired if New York lost out on another $1 billion.