* New York, New Jersey senators: "very good start"
* Funding request could complicate "fiscal cliff" debate
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, Dec 7 (Reuters) - President Barack
Obama asked Congress on Friday to approve a $60.4 billion aid
package to help East Coast states rebuild after Superstorm
Sandy, well short of their initial requests.
Officials from storm-battered New York, New Jersey and
Connecticut had said they needed at least $82 billion combined
to make emergency repairs and upgrade infrastructure.
New York and New Jersey lawmakers said they expect Obama
will seek more aid as the extent of Sandy's damage becomes
clearer. The two states were hit the hardest by the storm, which
made landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29.
"This supplemental is a very good start, and while $60
billion doesn't cover all of New York and New Jersey's needs, it
covers a large percentage," said Senators Charles Schumer and
Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Frank Lautenberg and Robert
Menendez of New Jersey.
"This is the first good news New York has had in a while,"
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.
Of the total, $15 billion would come in the form of
Community Development Block Grants, a mechanism that gives local
jurisdiction significant flexibility to provide aid and rebuild
In addition, nearly $13 billion would go to an array of
projects aimed at better protecting the New York-New Jersey
coastal region and preventing damage from future storms.
Another $6.2 billion would be reserved for public
Officials said they could ask for more aid later on. There
is precedent for multiple funding requests to cope with a
Less than two weeks after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the
Gulf Coast in 2005, Congress had passed two appropriations
totaling $62.3 billion. Within a year, two more packages were
passed worth a combined $48 billion, which also covered damage
from Hurricanes Rita and Wilma.
Multibillion-dollar supplemental appropriations for Katrina
were still being made as late as 2010.
COULD COMPLICATE 'CLIFF' TALKS
The disaster funding request, on a scale not seen since
Katrina, could complicate already tense negotiations between the
White House and Congress on a deficit reduction deal.
Lawmakers are trying to avert the year-end "fiscal cliff" of
automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that amount to a total of
"We have the request and will review it," said Michael
Steel, a spokesman for House of Representatives Speaker John
Boehner. He did not elaborate.
Some Republican lawmakers have said they will demand
spending cuts elsewhere in the federal budget to offset the cost
of some projects in the aid package.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, whose
panel will review the request, said Congress has a
responsibility to help the region recover.
"It is also our responsibility during these tight-budget
times to make sure that the victims of this storm are getting
the most of every single recovery dollar, and to ensure that
disaster funds are timed and targeted in the most efficient and
appropriate manner," the Republican lawmaker said in a
Menendez said on Thursday that he expects that Congress will
be able to approve the spending request before the end of the
Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Craig Fugate told
lawmakers this week that the FEMA disaster relief fund was down
to less than $5 billion and would run out by early spring at the
current pace of disbursements.
"We need a full recovery package to be voted on in this
session of Congress," said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
in a statement. "Any delay will impede our recovery."