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Public Statements

Department of Defense Appropriations Act

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. LANDRIEU. Madam President, I am going to truncate my remarks to 5 minutes. I came to speak on the supplemental and the great needs in the Northeast.

Generally, because I know there are other Senators who have other items to discuss, I will come back at a later time for extended remarks. I wanted to come to the floor just to say to all of my colleagues that I hope we can be patient with one another, supportive of the tragedy that is unfolding in the Northeast related to Superstorm Sandy, which I think has caused greater destruction than maybe many people in this Chamber and this Capitol realize.

While Katrina--something that I am very familiar with, a storm that hit us over 7 years ago, in August of 2005--received headline after headline after headline, week after week after week, television station after television station, Superstorm Sandy, because it hit a more dense area that is potentially not as--I don't know--as camera friendly, and maybe because of some of the other things that have subsequently happened, the terrible shooting and other issues in the country, I am not sure the public quite understands how devastating this storm has been for a very important part of our country. I will try to frame it with just a few statistics that might grab people.

In my State, when Katrina hit, in one weekend we lost 18,000 small businesses. To us, it was a nightmare. We have about 1.2 million people in our metropolitan area and 18,000 small businesses represented a tremendous loss. But the businesses that have been lost in New York and New Jersey exceed 300,000. As to homes, we have lost 275,000 homes along the gulf coast. In New York alone we have lost over 350,000 homes, and those numbers are still coming in for New Jersey.

While it is not on the television every night, and CNN is not filming from New York or from New Jersey or any of these communities on a nightly basis like they did from New Orleans and the gulf coast for weeks and weeks, it would be wrong for us in this Congress to underestimate the damage that has been caused to this area.

One thing I wanted to say today is--and I will come back for extended remarks--it is not only the resources that we need to get to this region, $60 billion is not all that the region requested. They requested $90 billion and had good justification for asking for that. The President trimmed back those responses to get to the real core of what was needed for family, for flood insurance, for the Corps of Engineers, for mitigation, for transportation, so that the recovery could get underway in a very balanced and robust way.

It is not all that the region wanted, but it is a large enough package, Madam President, to give hope to people in New Jersey and New York, and, yes, Connecticut, Maryland, and a few other places that were hard hit as well. Then they could begin making plans for recovery.

There are whole towns, portions of towns, communities. I was able to actually get on the ground with Senator Menendez and visit one of the Long Beach communities in New Jersey--I think it was the Long Beach community there--and saw just miles and miles and miles of shuttered businesses, one after another, along that Jersey shore. I just saw a small portion of it that day. It goes on for miles and miles and miles.

Now, just for the next minute or two, yes; insurance is going to cover some of these losses, but insurance is not going to cover it all. In the bill that we are about to talk about, and are talking about now, there is an authorization for $9 billion more for flood insurance. If we don't authorize this $9 billion, which is part of the 60, there will not be flood insurance claims paid to people who have paid into the flood insurance program. They will not be able to get out their legitimate claims. So that is one of the important reasons we should pass the supplemental.

In the final 30 seconds I have--and I will come back and speak longer--there is the mitigation part of this. After Katrina, one of the smartest things we did was to send to the communities on the gulf coast, to mitigate against future storm damage--it was about $14 billion total for several of our large Corps projects. It was a lot of money. People grumbled and complained, but, you know what. They sent it.

The Corps built the project on time and underbudget, and in this last storm that we had, Isaac, which just hit, which people don't even remember--we had a storm in August, the same date as Katrina--there wasn't a drop of water in Orleans Parish or Jefferson Parish except for lower parts of Jefferson, not even in Saint Bernard. Why? Because the mitigation worked.

So the two points I want to make and then, in turn, yield to Senator McCain and others who are on the floor, are this bill is not everything that was requested, but it is robust enough to do the job. No. 2, it has tools in it to help the recovery move faster, more streamlined, more efficiently. And, No. 3, mitigation works.

So as this debate goes on, I know some people are getting hardened hearts about this bill already, but I am asking you to understand that in a catastrophic disaster such as this, regular process won't work, regular appropriations won't work. Supplemental disaster funding is essential, and not just for FEMA but for transportation, for the Corps, et cetera.

I thank Senator Leahy for his leadership at a very difficult time. I will come back and speak more about this later, but I wanted to get some of these statements in the Record as we begin this debate, and I will come back and talk more about the Homeland Security portion of this bill.

I yield the floor.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. LANDRIEU. Mr. President, Senator Leahy has been handling this bill for the last 24 hours or so, and I came to the floor earlier to speak about the supplemental. I gave truncated remarks because Senator McCain had personal remarks to make on behalf of his colleague Senator Kyl. At this time I would like to reengage in the debate regarding the supplemental for just a few minutes.

I know this day has been back and forth with personal tributes on the floor as well as the debate on the supplemental for Superstorm Sandy. I have come to the floor specifically as chair of the Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, which does have jurisdiction over FEMA, and to say a couple of words about this piece of the supplemental.

I understand that other chairs of the Appropriations Committee have come down to talk. I know there have been discussions with regard to the Corps of Engineers mitigation issues and fishery issues in this bill, which is the subject of Senator Mikulski's committee. Senators have talked about housing and urban development, community block grants--that is in HUD--and transportation, which is under the jurisdiction of Senator Murray's committee.

I have been pleased and honored to be the chair of the Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee for several years now. I am proud we are actually seeing the benefits today of the reforms that were put in place as our first responders respond to literally the worst disaster to hit the Northeast in 50 years.

I wish to address a few things and clarify some numbers for the record. The fact that Hurricane Sandy is not on the news every night and CNN is not broadcasting from the shores of New York and New Jersey does not mean it is over. The news coverage happened for a few days, and then they went to other pressing issues of the day. As new challenges arise, it is natural that the attention of the press will be diverted. The problem is that it may be natural, but it is not necessarily good for people who have lost their homes and their businesses. Without quick action from Congress and robust, definitive, comprehensive support from the Federal Government, these individuals and communities will not be able to recover.

As the Senator from one of the States hardest hit in recent memory from a natural disaster, I am able to testify as an eyewitness to what happened in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and what is possible in the recovery for Hurricane Sandy.

It has been over 7 weeks since Hurricane Sandy claimed the lives of more than 130 Americans and destroyed--and I want to correct the record--340,000 homes and 200,000 businesses. Just to make a comparison, as a result of Hurricane Katrina, which primarily hit south Louisiana and Mississippi, we lost 275,000 homes. This is 340,000 homes that have been destroyed. That is more than Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. And 200,000 businesses is substantially more businesses that were lost compared to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which was about 18,000 businesses. Part of it is due to this area being more densely populated.

The storm was broader in its width and more intense in certain areas. It was broader geographically, and the area is so densely populated. I think it is hard for people from less populated areas of the country to understand how much destruction can be leveled in a certain area. More than 8.5 million families were left without power, heat, or running water. Many of those families have power, heat, and running water now, although not all.

Just this week, I picked up the phone to call my friend Marc Moriel, president of the Urban League. The Presiding Officer knows him very well. He was a former mayor of New Orleans. The cell phone wasn't answered. Finally, through a couple of connections, I got through to him. Their offices are in New York.

He said: Mary, I am sorry I couldn't get back to you sooner. Our phones are still out from Sandy.

They have not lost their home, but they were out of their home for some time.

As I said before, just because it is not on the news does not mean it is over. There are thousands of small businesses, nonprofits, individuals who, without this package of hope and support, are not going to get back to business to help get their communities back and help get our economy running again. The Urban League is just one example. There are still individuals without phone service, power, et cetera.

It is important for us to understand that insurance proceeds are not going to be enough. Even with a well-insured population, it is not going to be enough to handle the catastrophe that befell this particular area of our country just a few weeks ago.

Over 500,000 people registered for temporary housing and individual assistance. FEMA provided over 14 million meals, over 16 million liters of water, 1.6 million blankets, and 100,000 tarps. DOD delivered 9.3 million gallons of gasoline to 300 gas stations, and over 270 million gallons of saltwater was pumped out of transit tunnels. At the peak of the response, 17,000 Federal personnel and over 11,000 National Guardsmen were involved. The response was robust, quick, efficient, and I think the taxpayers of our country and I know the people of the region are grateful for the new FEMA that showed up. Not everything is perfect. We still have more work to do, but the response was much better than it was during Katrina.

However, that initial response is now over and the recovery must begin. The recovery cannot begin in earnest and no great plans can be made. Neither can Governor Christie nor Governor Cuomo, nor Mayor Bloomberg, nor Mayor Cory Booker or any other mayors, including the mayor of Hoboken in New Jersey, who testified before our committee this week--none of the mayors can get about framing the possibility of recovery without knowing certain things. They need to know that, A, FEMA is going to have enough money to stick with this, which they do not now because they are going to run out of money in the spring; they have to know that FEMA has enough money to go the distance. They don't know that now and, without the supplemental, they won't.

They have to know they have some mitigation money in this bill to repair and fix some of the dunes that were well engineered that protected communities and to rebuild dunes that failed because they were not engineered properly. No one is going to reinvest--or very few people will reinvest--behind a dune that is going to fail again.

There are fisheries communities along the coast and tourism along the coast, much like the gulf coast. So all of these pieces of recovery are very important. We can't send FEMA money without the Corps of Engineers money or without community development block grant money, because the recovery is a holistic recovery. Most people are very smart and many people like to hold on to what money they have left. They can't take the last little bit of their savings to rebuild their house and invest in their business if they don't know the Federal Government has sent money for the dune repair or the Federal Government has sent enough money for their fire station to get up and running. What good is having a business with no fire protection? What good is having a business if there is no grocery store within 30 miles? All of these things work together, and that is what we saw with Katrina. The question is not whether FEMA has enough money; the question is whether HUD has enough money--well, it is important that FEMA have enough money but it is not the only question. FEMA has to have money, but so does HUD, so does Transportation, and so does the Corps of Engineers.

In addition to what is happening along the east coast, nine States and the District of Columbia have been declared major disasters--well, nine States and the District of Columbia, from Hurricane Sandy. It is not just Hurricane Sandy. We had a record number of disasters last year around the country. So, yes, there is some money in this bill for other disasters and if we have to increase or decrease that sum to accommodate some of the interests of the Members, we are going to have to do so to get help not only to the Northeast but to other areas of the country as well.

North Dakota experienced terrible flooding. We were a little bit short on sending money to them and perhaps we should fix that in this bill. There have been some agricultural areas that have been very hard hit. We should fix that in this bill. Americans who pay taxes expect when they have catastrophic disasters for us to step up, and I think that is a good expectation, and I think it is a very fair expectation. When this country went to war over a decade ago, we didn't pay for the $1.4 trillion that it took to secure this Nation from an outside threat. Sometimes threats come right to our front door and we have to be willing to step up and give a small amount compared to the $1.4 trillion we spent in Iraq and in Afghanistan that was not offset. We should be willing to spend a very small portion--$60 billion in this case, over $100 billion for Katrina and Rita, and a few billion here and there. That is not an insignificant amount of money. A billion dollars is a lot of money. It sounds like a lot to anyone listening, but relative to the cost of the war, it is a very small investment in our own country to help Americans who have played by the rules, done everything they were asked to do--they even have insurance--yet, without this bill, there is not enough money in the insurance program to cover their claim when they file it.

If we don't pass this bill, there is not enough money for FEMA to do its job. There is not any money in the Corps of Engineers. There is not enough money for transportation. Taxpayers in the Northeast and around the country deserve our best efforts.

If there is a Member who believes there is something in this bill, whether it is in my section of the bill which is Homeland Security, or whether it is in another--if a Member doesn't feel as though a request in here is justified, please offer an amendment, let us debate it, and maybe we can make some changes or a modification. Unfortunately, I can say from personal experience, from watching the mayors I represent--all 300-plus mayors in the State, dozens of them, their communities were destroyed by Katrina, watching them struggle month after month, year after year, not knowing what money was coming from Washington; whether the levees would get repaired or not; whether there was going to be a community development block grant--I can tell my colleagues it is better to fund this on the front end like this. Give them the money, let them make their plans, and then in a year or two if it is not enough they can come back and we can make some adjustments as opposed to not acting or giving them too little to start. If we do that, the recovery will not get off in a very balanced way and it will cost the taxpayers so much more in the long run.

I am kind of responsible for the FEMA portion, for the flood insurance portion, and for some of the reforms that are represented in this bill. I wish to speak for a minute about those reforms because sometimes it is not just about investing money and giving money from Washington; sometimes it is giving money in a way that saves taxpayers money in the long run or for investing in a way that includes reform. This is not your grandfather's FEMA. This is a new FEMA. We have some new reforms that are authorized in this bill that are going to help the recovery go more quickly, and I wish to talk about that for a minute.

This is a reform-minded supplemental. It is drafted to be a more efficient, more effective, and smarter recovery, saving taxpayers money over time. It reauthorizes two expired pilot programs from the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act, allows the use of money to repair rental housing units, and to expedite debris removal procedures. If my colleagues have not been a witness to a catastrophic disaster, they cannot imagine the amount of debris generated from either a massive fire or a massive flood. The old rules FEMA operated under were a waste of money, a waste of time, and lost opportunities. So we have expedited debris removal. We cannot start rebuilding a community until we can get rid of the debris. It sounds like common sense and it is, but there are some bureaucratic hurdles and we are trying to fix those in this bill.

It allows the State to draw on a portion of the hazard mitigation funding from FEMA in order to leverage mitigation opportunities in the reconstruction process. Under the current program, it takes 18 to 36 months for funding to become available. By then, most reconstruction is already completed or underway. This would expedite--sort of forward fund--some of those projects, which is another smart move to save taxpayers money.

It codifies grants on the basis of flexible and fixed estimates for expedited removal of debris. It codifies temporary legislative measures that were connected to facilitate smarter recovery after Katrina and Rita, including third-party arbitration. It removes the penalty on alternative projects, and it allows FEMA to consolidate facilities.

Specifically, if 10 fire stations were lost in an area, instead of FEMA reimbursing each fire station one at a time, they can make a general estimate and receive a global settlement. We did this for our schools in New Orleans. One hundred out of 146 were destroyed. It was one of the smartest things we ever did, because before we passed this reform legislation, FEMA was asking us to count every piece of chalk that was missing, every eraser that was missing, every broken pane of glass, and would only refund the building of that exact building on that exact spot. We were able to have a global settlement where we could reconstruct our schools not to build a school system that had been built for the past century but to build a school system for the next century. That is what makes sense. That is what is in this reform supplemental.

There are better tools, more carefully designed to save taxpayers money and to help expedite a recovery of one of the most important financial centers in the world--not just in the United States but in the world. Every part of this country is important, but this particular part of the country, a lot of the rest of us depend on it operating at full speed, particularly as this recovery moves to our rearview mirror.

Let me say two or three more things. It reduces bureaucratic waste by eliminating the current practice of duplicative agency reviews for the same project. It will allow the rebuilding to, of course, consider environmental needs, but it does not require an environmental review by every agency for the same project. It helps to streamline that, which I think makes sense and honors the environment at the same time.

It includes tribal governments for the first time, which I think is an important addition, and, again, it requires an assessment of Hurricane Sandy's impact on local government budgets in the event they might need to borrow some additional money to continue to operate.

So, again, the $60 billion number is a large number. It is billions of dollars. It is not by any means pocket change, but compared to the money that was outlaid for the wars--$1.4 trillion--when disaster comes knocking at the door in our hometowns, whether it is Hoboken, NJ, or New Orleans, LA, taxpayers who live by the rules and pay their taxes every year expect not a handout, not an easy recovery, but they do expect the Federal Government to step up and at least be a partner in their recovery.

There are local taxes that are going to have to be raised. There are hundreds and thousands of hours of volunteer efforts that go into rebuilding communities. Churches and faith-based organizations show up and do more than their share, but the Federal Government most certainly should step up and help the Northeast and a few other disasters that are still open.

All of this money will come back to us one-hundredfold as these businesses get back up on their feet, start paying taxes again to the community, and hire people who have been laid off. In fact, it creates a little bit of a stimulus boon in those communities, which benefits the tax base as well, as taxes are collected from every business that is reopened. So it is a smart investment for us.

I would recommend to my colleagues if they have specific objections to a specific part of the bill to file an amendment. We can discuss it, we can debate it, and perhaps we can shave a little here or a little there; perhaps there are some things that can be done differently. But this has gone under careful review by the administration and by the different members of the Appropriations Committee on both sides of the aisle, and, of course, vetted and screened by Governor Christie, a strong Republican leader in our country, Governor Cuomo, a strong Democratic leader in our country, and numerous mayors and elected officials have looked at this.

This is not something that was written in the dark of night somewhere by somebody who doesn't understand about disasters. It was carefully crafted for a very strong recovery for the Northeast.

I thank the Members for their suggestions and I look forward to the debate, and hopefully we can get this supplemental done before this Congress adjourns. I think the people of the Northeast and the rest of our country are depending on us to do that.

I yield the floor.

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