Hurricane Sandy victims will get more federal help after all in bill Trump signed

By Jonathan D. Salant  |
NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

WASHINGTON — Two long-sought provisions designed to help Hurricane Sandy victims were added to an unrelated bill that was signed into law by President Donald Trump.

One would protect Sandy victims from having to pay back federal assistance if the government decides more than three years later that they received too much aid. The other would allow them to receive both Small Business Administration disaster loans and Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster assistance grants.

“The federal government has made it difficult for some in our community to recover from Sandy because of the actions of a few bad actors,” said Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-3rd Dist.

“Without this change in the law, FEMA could continue to change their mind on grants and make disaster victims pay back previously awarded disaster assistance, sometimes years after the award.”

Both provisions were championed by MacArthur and were added to legislation that continued Federal Aviation Administration operations for five years.

The FAA bill also included a House-passed provision sponsored by Rep. Donald Payne Jr. to have the Department of Homeland Security help develop plans for stronger security at passenger railroad stations and the non-secure areas of airports. 

“Heightened security has made attacks against aircraft more difficult to carry out, so terrorists have turned their attention to soft targets such as the crowded public areas of airports and other facilities,” said Payne, D-10th Dist.

And the FAA measure includes several programs for the technical center in Egg Harbor Township, which employs 3,500 people. There are millions of dollars in the bill to expand the facility and its research programs.

“It will allow critical research programs to continue uninterrupted while ensuring our FAA Technical Center has a leading role in developing, testing and deploying advanced aviation technologies in the 21st Century,” said Rep Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd Dist., the House aviation subcommittee chairman.

As for the Sandy measures, the first bill MacArthur introduced as a member of Congress would limit to three years the time FEMA could recoup overpayments to victims, except in cases of fraud or abuse. The House passed that bill last December.

The second provision would allow the president to permit disaster victims to receive both aid and loans from the federal government.

“The federal government should make it easier, not harder for those who have just gone through a natural disaster,” MacArthur said. “When homes and businesses are destroyed, the last thing families should have to worry about is whether taking an SBA loan will disqualify them for FEMA grants that become available later on.”

Congressional Republicans have been reticent to help those who suffered losses from Hurricane Sandy but not those from more recent storms in GOP-led states. The current House speaker, Paul Ryan, R-Wis., even voted against Sandy after the storm hit.

Congress last year voted to give special tax breaks to victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria while rebuffing efforts to do the same for those who suffered property damage under Sandy. Most House Democrats opposed the measure because it excluded Sandy victims from its benefits.

In addition, a majority of House Republicans voted to strip $900 million out of a spending bill to build a new Hudson River train tunnel to the existing tube could be taken out of service to repair the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. The effort failed.

Trump later threatened to shut down the government if any funds for the Gateway Tunnel project was included in the final bill, but lawmakers got around his veto threat.

He also dropped plans to eliminate $107 million in Sandy aid, removing the proposed cut from a list of budget reductions sent to Congress for approval.

Jonathan D. Salant may be reached at . Follow him on Twitter @JDSalant or on Facebook. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.