Sequestration Could Cut Lifelines to Hurricane Sandy Victims

Hurricane Sandy damage
Hurricane Sandy damage

Some Hurricane Sandy victims still struggling to recover from the devastating storm may find themselves waiting even longer for a lifeline -- because of the looming federal budget cuts known as "sequestration." But other victims are just now finally receiving help from state programs that were promised some time ago. The financial tussle in Congress is pitting a group of people who have already lost nearly everything into two groups: the haves and the have-nots.

Right now, a New York State program to buy up Sandy-ravaged properties and waterfront homes most vulnerable to storms is kicking into gear. The program will offer homeowners the pre-storm market rate for their homes, and then the government will tear them down rather than use disaster relief funds to rebuild homes continually in harm's way. "I think it's about time, because we've been trying to fight this since 1992 [with Tropical Storm Danielle]," Staten Island resident Sal Importa told New York City TV station PIX 11. "We've been waiting a long time for something like this to happen."

But over in some hard-hit New Jersey towns that are still in the middle of rebuilding, the sequestration's automatic budget cuts scheduled for March 1 -- which could total $85 billion -- might stop their efforts in their tracks. U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said that cuts to Sandy aid could reach $3 billion because of sequestration. That has the potential to halt or severely set back recovery projects for transit, individual homeowners, businesses and government properties, New Jersey's Star-Ledger newspaper reported.

"It affects us," said Dennis Vaccaro, mayor of the devastated town of Moonachie, N.J. "It affects not only the municipality, it affects residents in the municipality. We still have many residents that aren't back in their homes, that are still rebuilding."

Mauro Raguseo, mayor of Little Ferry, N.J., another hard-hit town, said Congress is playing games with people's livelihoods. "Once again the Congress is moving from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis," Raguseo said. "Well, I invite the Speaker of the House of Representatives and anybody else in Congress who feels the sequester should go through, to come and visit the people of Little Ferry and Moonachie. These aren't manufactured crises."