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Public Statements

Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SERRANO. I rise in support of both the Rogers amendment and the Frelinghuysen amendment, which will finally provide New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and elsewhere with the funding needed to respond to Hurricane Sandy. While I'm glad that we're considering this bill today, it is a travesty that it has taken this long for the House of Representatives to allow a vote on disaster-response funding.

The money in this bill and the Frelinghuysen amendment is the minimum that New York, New Jersey, and elsewhere need for their recovery process. I'm very concerned that there are several amendments that will be considered today that seek to cut further funding from the bill.

At least one amendment seeks to offset the cost of this bill. Our Nation has never before attempted to offset the cost of disaster assistance. The Appropriations Committee and the House have always come together to help Americans in times of need without regard to costs. To offset costs here would effectively kill this bill in the Senate and further delay assistance that is desperately needed to New York City and elsewhere. The two-step process is the proper way to go.

I just may add in closing that we in New York have always seen images of disasters in other areas, but we never imagine anything like this happening in our area. We understand what other folks have gone through, and I hope you understand the need we have to recover. The pain, the suffering, and the despair that people in our community feel is beyond anything we can imagine or we can imagine in New York. And so this aid will, at the minimum, immediately send a message that we care and we want something to happen positive and, in fact, people will be begin to recover.

So I thank Mr. Rogers and Mrs. Lowey for bringing the bill to the floor, and I will ask folks to vote for both amendments and for the bill in general.

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Mr. SERRANO. I thank the gentleman for the time, and I thank you for your work on this, your leadership on this. You've worked very hard to make this a bipartisan amendment. That's why I stand in support of it. The folks in New York need a lot of help. Your amendment speaks to the small business community. It speaks to GSA's need to do repairs on buildings that service those communities, otherwise costly leases would have to take place in order to provide working places for Federal employees. So the details of your amendment, sir, speak to many of the needs that we have in the community right now, and that's why I rise in support of it, in support of your efforts to make this a bipartisan effort; and I thank you for your support of so many people in need not only in your State, but in Connecticut and in my State of New York.

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Mr. SERRANO. Let me first say that your comments once again, sir, are just right on target.

This is one of those amendments that simply strikes out at a government agency not realizing the harm it causes the people. The impact is particularly severe for low-income families, individuals who are unable to afford the kind of legal assistance they might need to help them recover.

Since Sandy, legal aid programs have been on the front lines of disaster assistance, and they will be providing legal assistance for Sandy victims for years to come. They've been dealing with FEMA assistance, with SNAP benefits, with unemployment benefits, along with legal issues related to evictions and housing problems; but the need for legal assistance will not end there.

In future months and perhaps even years, cases involving FEMA appeals, bankruptcy, fair housing, and public housing issues will arise. Contractor fraud scams will proliferate as Sandy victims start receiving cash payments from insurance proceeds and housing repair grants. Legal aid programs will be called on to provide help, and more than ever now we need this kind of assistance. What's interesting about this amendment is that it's not an amendment really directed at the funding as much as it is at the whole Legal Services Corporation. It is an attempt to attack an agency that stands up for those who can't defend themselves.

Interestingly enough, this was Richard Nixon's proudest program. He believed, at that time, as many have after him, that the poor needed a way to defend themselves in our courts. To go after this funding is not to go after a million dollars. Let's be honest. It's to go after the corporation. It is ill-timed, it is wrong, it is unfair; and we should reject it by a majority, if not by a unanimous vote.

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