Cuomo and Schumer celebrate $60 billion in Sandy aid as a ‘large first step’

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At a press briefing in the governor's Manhattan office this afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senator Chuck Schumer cheered the news that the White House has asked Congress for $60.4 billion in federal aid for the storm-damaged parts of New York and New Jersey.

"This is a very good start," Schumer told reporters. "Sixty billion dollars is a lot of money."

Cuomo and his counterpart in New Jersey, Chris Christie, had initially asked for $82 billion in aid, and while the request fell significantly short of that request, it was still considered a victory, after initial reports suggested the White House would submit a request closer to $50 billion.

"Three quarters is better than half," Schumer said.

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Cuomo said a "majority" of that money would go to New York State, though the White House did not break down the total amount in its letter to House Speaker John Boehner. Cuomo said he would rather have the $60 billion now than $80 billion "in six months."

"People need money today," he said.

But the governor also signaled he would push for additional funding, calling the White House figure a "good first step."

Schumer said the funding needed to rebuild will likely to grow over time, as it did when New Orleans struggled to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

(Former Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco told Capital this week that she had to return to Congress nine times after an initial $51-billion package of federal aid.)

The key point Schumer stressed was the flexibility in how New York can spend the federal aid, and that it will go to rebuilding New York's infrastructure better than before the storm, and protect it against future super-storms.

The funding does not cover damages already covered by private insurance, applies only to primary residences, and will not be available to large corporations like Consolidated Edison.

The request must still be approved by Congress, where there is some lingering concern that House Republicans will demand offsetting spending cuts.

"You can't find $60 billion in cuts," said one Democratic lawmaker, who also pointed out that the Appropriations Committee, which includes senior members Nita Lowey and Jose Serrano, will lose one New Yorker at the end of the year, with the retirement of Rep. Maurice Hinchey.

Schumer said the New York delegation will attempt to keep the aid request separate from negotiations over the so-called fiscal cliff, in order to ensure the money is not bargained away as part of a larger budget deal.

He and the governor praised one another and said they had been speaking frequently.

"I have his cell phone memorized in my sleep, almost," Schumer said.