Obama’s Sandy czar warns of more devastation in the absence of congressional relief

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Boardwalk in the Rockaways. (iakoubtchik via Flickr)
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President Obama's housing secretary and hurricane-relief point-person, Shaun Donovan, said today that the New York region will experience yet more devastation if Congress doesn't quickly provide $60 billion in relief.

"If Congress doesn't move quickly, we will have tens of thousands of families and small businesses that literally have no way to plan for their future," Donovan told reporters today in lower Manhattan. "They will be stuck in a limbo that is more devastating than any of us can imagine, their homes and their communities destroyed. And they need to be able to move forward with their lives and to make decisions."

Donovan made his remarks following a speech at the Jewish Museum of Heritage sponsored by the Center for Urban Real Estate and the Municipal Art Society that focused on the federal government's role in responding to and recovering from catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy.

In a question-and-answer session with reporters, Donovan said that the $60 billion in congressional relief is so important in part because the Federal Emergency Management Agency has a statutory limit on how much money it can give to those hit hard by the storm.

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"There are broader issues too," he said. "Will the beaches of Long Island and New Jersey be ready for next summer? There are thousands and thousands of small businesses that are dependent on...there being people and families at those communities this summer. If we miss the summer, it will be ... another year before those businesses can survive and many of them are unlikely to survive.

"And then, finally, if we are going to do the smart things that will avoid costs the next time we have one of these disasters, we need to start building that into our planning now. We shouldn't delay weeks or months starting the critical planning of rebuilding. And we need to know what resources are available."

Donovan said that "getting the supplemental passed literally in the next few weeks" is his top priority, but that doesn't mean it will be easy.

Congressional Republicans have been skeptical of the size of the relief package, even though it's far smaller than the amounts requested by the region's governors.

Some, like Senate minority whip Jon Kyl, are even demanding the expenditures be offset by cuts elsewhere.

"At $60 billion? In this time when we’re trying to solve the deficit problem?” Kyl recently told the Hill. "Can I verbalize that stinky look on my face?"