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Sequestration cuts could slow Sandy rebuild, lawmakers warn

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Democratic congressional leaders are worried a 5 percent cut in funds earmarked for Hurricane Sandy rebuilding efforts will cause further delays in rebuilding homes and businesses along the Jersey Shore.

As the nation heads toward federal budget reductions, $85 billion in across-the-board cuts from federal agencies are scheduled to go into effect, and Sandy aid in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut could be reduced as a result. About $2.5 billion would be cut from the $60 billion disaster relief package passed in January.

The sequester could result in FEMA losing $1 billion, and another $1.5 billion taken from programs such as emergency transportation and community block grants, lawmakers from the three states said in a conference call Friday.

Frank Pallone

"My district was hit very hard by Hurricane Sandy," said U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-New Brunswick). "The amount we were originally getting was already less than the three governors assumed would be needed to rebuild."

Pallone said Sandy Hook alone needs $35 million to rebuild roads, bicycle paths, bathrooms and a sewage treatment plant destroyed during the Oct. 29 storm. The hope is to have the work done, and the park reopened, by May 1.

"If Sandy Hook doesn't open, we lose the tourism season and all the jobs that go along with that," he said. "That is the economic engine for my district."

Pallone said as of last week, 70 percent of claims from Hurricane Sandy still have not been processed. If the across-the-board cuts go through, 5 percent of federal flood insurance employees who process claims also will be cut, further slowing the process.

"When a disaster like Hurricane Sandy strikes, families rely on and deserve disaster aid," said U.S. Rep. Rose DeLauro, of Connecticut, who was on the call with Pallone and U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, of New York. "In my view, it's one of the fundamental responsibilities of government."

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