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Extending the Economic and Social Ladders to Success

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. PALLONE. I want to thank my colleague from California for having this Special Order and talking about the hurricane damage and what needs to be done in the future.

I have to say that the damage to my district was catastrophic. We had many towns where initially at least it looked like the majority of the homes and businesses were wiped out.

When we go back and look again, some of them can be saved. But we're talking about thousands of people who lost their homes and many others who lost their businesses.

It really created a humanitarian crisis in that first week or so because we were trying to get FEMA in with the disaster recovery centers and with the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Over the first week, the main concern was just humanitarian, trying to find shelter for people, trying to make sure they had food and water and clothes.

I have to say the response was overwhelming. So many of the towns in my district--basically, it was a voluntary effort because in the first few days, it was pretty much the people locally that were doing all those things.

Towns had shelters set up. People were bringing in food, making hot meals. I never saw such an outpouring of support, if you will. And it continues. This weekend, by this last weekend, there were disaster recovery centers set up by FEMA in many of the towns, particularly those that were hardest hit. And I have to say that locally FEMA did a very good job. The people who came out and set up the disaster recovery centers or helped with the humanitarian needs, they really were excellent.

But I wanted to talk a little bit today, if I could, not that the humanitarian concerns have disappeared, because they haven't, I don't want to suggest that, but I wanted to talk a little bit about long-term needs, if I could, and take just a little bit of your time.

We met with the FEMA director this morning, and I talked essentially about four needs that we really need to address. One was what I call temporary housing. In other words, I want people to get out of the shelters and either be able to go back to their homes or some kind of temporary housing that would last them for a year or 18 months. We set up, and I think it should open by this weekend at Fort Monmouth, which is one of the military bases that was closed under BRAC, but we have identified at least 600 units I believe now where we can put people temporarily who lost their homes and can't go back to their home. But I talked to the FEMA director today about trying to get trailers in. And he said that was going to happen, but it hasn't happened yet, because many of the people right now are still living in a house that has no power and is not functional. But because it is not terribly cold, or hasn't been, they are able to stay there. Once it gets cold, they won't be able to and will have to go back to a shelter. And we want people to get out of these shelters.

So I'm hoping that not only will we have some housing at Fort Monmouth, but we can also supplement that and get some trailers in from FEMA that could actually be put in place on people's own property so they don't have to go to Fort Monmouth or elsewhere over the next year or 18 months. This is sort of the second stage, out of the shelter and into some temporary housing for a year or 18 months, and then back to your own house once it is repaired or rebuilt.

The second thing is that, and I think you were getting at it before, we have a lot of the beach replenishment and the dunes and the seawalls that were being used as protection. Some of my towns are actually below sea level, and if it wasn't for the seawall or the dunes or the beach replenishment, artificial beach replenishments that have been put in place, the loss would have been even worse. And now those are gone. Not completely, but in a town like Keansburg, New Jersey, the dune is gone. And in many towns along the Atlantic coast, the slope of the beach has gone down 6 or 7 feet, and so they don't have any protection anymore. Seawalls have been broken up.

I asked the Corps and FEMA today, the FEMA director, to give the Corps the go-ahead to do emergency work. Right now in Keansburg, for example, if you have another storm, not even a hurricane, since the dune is not there, the water will come right in, and you'll have the same problem again. So we got a positive response on that, but we need to find out when that is going to happen, when it's going to begin.

The third thing is the match. I have a lot of very small towns. Some of my towns have 1,000 people, 2,000 people. When you talk about long-term work on infrastructure, municipal or State infrastructure, there is a 25 percent match. We are trying to get that reduced or eliminated because the towns cannot afford that.

The last thing, many people have asked, and I'm sure we're going to have a debate, I have no doubt that these more severe and frequent storms are a consequence of global climate change. I have been around 60 years, and I've never seen a storm like this. Nobody has. They say it is the 500-year storm. I'm afraid, my colleagues, that the 500-year storm is now the 10-year storm. And the nor'easter that we would get every 20 years is going to happen every year. I hope not, but it certainly seems that way.

So we have to look at in some cases buy-outs. In other words, people have said, look, we can't do this every 2 or 3 years, so can we have the government buy our home. Well, there is no home, but what's left of it rather than rebuild--and in many areas if the homes could be lifted and put on a platform or piling, then maybe they could stay because the water would rush underneath. I also brought this up with the FEMA director, and he said there are programs at the Federal level that would accomplish that.

So we are now looking, and I'm not taking away from the humanitarian problem that still exists, it definitely does, but we have to look at some of these issues in terms of housing, rebuilding, and changes in the way we build over the long term.

I know that all of you and all of our colleagues, hopefully on a bipartisan basis, will be supportive of trying to get funding for all of these things. The FEMA director said for emergency purposes there is adequate funding at least until the spring. But when we talk about some of these long-term things, undoubtedly there will have to be some kind of an appropriation that we're going to have to pass here; and I hope and I pray that we're all going to work together to accomplish that.

Thank you for the time.


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