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Public Statements

Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mrs. LOWEY. Madam Chair, I rise in strong support of this bill, and I want to thank Chairman Rogers and Chairman Frelinghuysen for taking the lead on this very important legislation.

I rise in strong support of the underlying bill, with the addition of the Frelinghuysen amendment, which will help families, businesses, and communities affected by Sandy recover and rebuild.

In the 79 days that have passed since Superstorm Sandy caused such destruction, I have worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, with Governors Cuomo and Christie, Chairman Rogers, Mr. King of New York, Mr. Frelinghuysen, and all of our colleagues from affected States to provide long overdue assistance to our region.

Sandy devastated much of the Northeast and is one of the costliest natural disasters in our Nation's history. One hundred ten Americans lost their lives, 8.1 million homes were without power, beaches across New York and New Jersey were destroyed, and more than 650,000 homes were damaged beyond repair.

Sandy ground regional commerce to a halt by making tunnels and other transportation networks impassable. Two hundred sixty-five thousand businesses in New York alone were severely affected by Sandy, costing jobs, paychecks, and billions lost in economic output.

There is no excuse for the House not passing the Senate bill last Congress, but I am very pleased that the first order of business in the 113th Congress may be passing this emergency disaster relief package.

Along with the $9.7 billion flood insurance bill the House passed 2 weeks ago, the Rogers and Frelinghuysen amendments would provide $60 billion of the $80 billion in needs identified by our Governors. There are a number of provisions I would like to highlight: $16 billion for community development block grants to help communities and businesses rebuild; $13 billion to repair and harden transportation infrastructure; $5.35 billion to repair damages and bolster Army Corps projects to protect against costly future disasters; $11.5 billion for the FEMA disaster relief fund, which not only helps provide public assistance in the Northeast but also allows FEMA to continue helping victims of other disasters; $780 million to help businesses open their doors through SBA loans; and $800 million for Health and Human Services initiatives, including repairing Head Start centers and biomedical research facilities.

While I strongly support it, the package is still not perfect. It does not fully fund the administration's request for community development block grants, does not include superior Senate language on the flexibility and cost share of Army Corps projects, and limits funding for health facilities that lost tens of millions of dollars due to the storm.

Finally, opponents of the legislation who claim that the bill is riddled with so-called ``pork'' and unnecessary provisions are just plain wrong. Frankly, anyone who has really read the bill knows there are no earmarks, and those who have toured the damage know that aid is desperately needed.

My colleagues, there were 146 major disaster declarations in the last 2 years. There isn't a region of the country immune to catastrophe. This package was written with the core belief that when one region suffers destruction by a natural disaster, Americans are proud to help their fellow citizens recover and rebuild. It is imperative that we support this package today and reject amendments that weaken the bill and prevent the region from recovering as quickly as possible.

Madam Chair, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mrs. LOWEY. Well, first of all, I want to thank the chairman, Mr. Rogers, who's been a good friend for so many years. I look forward to working together in a bipartisan way so we can work everything out before and serve the American people. And I thank you for your kind words.

I rise to engage the gentleman from Kentucky, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, in a colloquy.

Some questions have been raised about the interpretation of language in both of the Rogers substitute and the Frelinghuysen amendment under the Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund. The language prohibits use of amounts in that appropriation for costs that are reimbursed by self-insurance. I would like to engage Chairman Rogers in a discussion to help clarify the meaning of that provision.

Am I correct in understanding that the term ``self-insurance'' is intended to refer to a formal plan, pursuant to law or regulation, in which amounts are set aside in a fund to cover losses of specified types and amounts? Am I also correct that without such a formal, funded arrangement, a government or organization would not be considered to be self-insured for purposes of this language simply because they do not have any commercial insurance coverage for the loss in question?

Mr. ROGERS of Kentucky. Reclaiming my time, yes, the gentlelady's understanding is correct, and I further yield to her.

Mrs. LOWEY. I thank the gentleman. I would also like to confirm my understanding that this language would only preclude use of appropriated funds if the expenses in question were actually reimbursed by the formal self-insurance plan. In other words, merely having a self-insurance plan would not bar use of this appropriation for things that the plan did not cover or pay for. I ask the gentleman, is my understanding correct?

Mr. ROGERS of Kentucky. The gentlelady's understanding is correct.

I reserve the balance of my time.

Mrs. LOWEY. It is a pleasure for me to yield 2 minutes to Ranking Member Visclosky of the Defense Appropriations Committee.

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Mrs. LOWEY. Mr. Chairman, I'll respond in 30 seconds, and then I'd be delighted if you closed.

Mr. Chairman, I'd like to again thank you and Chairman Frelinghuysen for your hard work on this bill.

I would like to address all those who are not sure about how they're going to vote on this bill, and I would like to clarify the way this appropriation works.

When you have huge disasters, transit systems, tunnels, thousands of homes that have to be repaired, you need that money committed before you can engage any contractor, any builder in a contract.

Now, as you and I know, Mr. Chairman, we've worked a long time on that committee, and before a dollar goes out, the person has to be responsible for every dollar that is committed that they've spent and that they're going to spend. So we're not just writing an open check. We're just not opening our checkbook. We're responding to these tremendous needs, and I do hope we can get a bipartisan vote for this effort.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mrs. LOWEY. I rise in strong opposition to the Mulvaney amendment. It would make indiscriminate across-the-board cuts, it would create a $2.1 billion shortfall in military pay, take $529 million from military health care and $1.4 billion support for our troops in Afghanistan. Even before the Mulvaney amendment, the Joint Chiefs of Staff say we are on the brink of creating a hollow force.

It would also cut care for wounded warriors after they come home, reducing veterans' medical services by more than $800 million. And here at home the amendment would eliminate $650 million in funds to repair, rebuild, and expand highways and bridges. It would cut more than 139,000 low-income pregnant women, infants and young children from the WIC program.

It would take $500 million from the National Institutes of Health for research and cures for diseases like cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer's.

On many occasions, Democrats and Republicans came together to meet these urgent needs caused by major disasters in all parts of the Nation. We didn't say we must first cut support for armed forces and veterans and reduce investments in research. Let's not do that now.

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Mrs. LOWEY. Madam Chair, I rise in strong support of the amendment offered by my friend Mr. Frelinghuysen, which would bring the funding total of this package to the amount requested by the President.

I cannot emphasize enough how critical the additional $33.4 billion provided in this amendment is to our region. I know there are many different viewpoints in this House and many different positions on issues we consider here, but Madam Chairwoman, I think we can all agree that the Federal Government has a fundamental and critical role when disasters of this magnitude strike. No State can do it alone. A Federal response is essential.

My colleagues, I commend Mr. Frelinghuysen on his amendment today, and I strongly urge its swift passage.

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Mrs. LOWEY. Madam Chair, I rise to claim the time in opposition to this amendment.

The Acting CHAIR. The gentlewoman from New York is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mrs. LOWEY. Legal aid offices in Sandy-affected areas are experiencing a huge increase in requests for civil legal assistance that is directly related to the storm and its aftermath. The Legal Services Corporation exists precisely to help meet the civil legal needs of low-income Americans, and the Legal Services Corporation assistance is never more important than following a major disaster.

Since Sandy hit, legal aid programs in New York and New Jersey have set up recovery hotlines, staffed FEMA disaster recovery centers, partnered with other State and local organizations to conduct disaster assistance training, and participated in clinics to provide legal counseling to affected communities. Local legal service programs are helping families obtain emergency food stamps, disaster-related unemployment insurance benefits and FEMA benefits to pay for rent and other expenses.

The funding this amendment proposes to eliminate would enable local organizations to purchase the needed mobile resources and equipment and to hire the coordinators they need to manage volunteers.

The $1 million this amendment would strike is a small amount relative to all of the other disaster relief efforts in the bill, but it will have a disproportionately large impact on the lives of low-income Americans it will help. I urge my colleagues to reject the amendment.

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Mrs. LOWEY. This amendment increases funding for the National Cemetery Association account by $1 million, offset by reductions in the SBA Disaster Loan Program.

As I understand it, the gentlewoman has heard from her constituents that these additional funds are needed to address extensive tree damage at New York and New Jersey national cemeteries.

VA cemeteries are national shrines and a lasting tribute that commemorate veterans' service and sacrifice to our great Nation. The amendment will ensure that the VA cemeteries affected by Hurricane Sandy will be repaired in a quick and efficient manner, and I urge all Members to support this amendment.

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