Unions hit GOP on Sandy aid

WASHINGTON – The bill President Obama has signed into law ($9.7 billion to pay flood insurance claims from Superstorm Sandy) will help ease delays in the processing of 100,000 of the flood claims by making sure the Federal Emergency Mgt. Agency doesn’t run out of money it uses to shore up insurance companies.

It does nothing, however, to aid townships and thousands of others in dire need, with action on the comprehensive $51 billion aid package put off by GOP House Speaker John Boehner until at least Jan. 15.

The hurricane ravaged the East Coast three months ago. At least 80 houses burned down in Queens alone, hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless, dozens died, and damage was at least $60 billion, the amount Democratic President Barack Obama requested. The Senate passed his aid bill, but Boehner pulled it.

Officials from the New York-New Jersey region – one of the most heavily unionized areas of the U.S. – blew up. So did union leaders.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka termed Boehner’s decision “a slap in the face.” Others were more caustic.

New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento called failure to vote for aid for Sandy victims “politics at its worst. The people impacted by Superstorm Sandy are not Democrats or Republicans. They are Americans, and need the government’s help. We will not let up in our fight until all those impacted by Sandy receive the aid they need.”

“Families who saw their livelihoods devastated by a natural disaster cannot afford to weather yet another storm in the form of gridlock politics,” added New Jersey AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech. He said Boehner’s actions are “shameful,” adding they “do not put the interests of the American people first, that much is clear. In fact their actions undermine our core American value that we will be there for one another in times of need.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten, a New Yorker, linked the GOP’s backing of tax cuts for the rich with its leaders’ decision to ignore the needs of storm-ravaged residents – the non-rich. She called Boehner’s decision “unconscionable.”

“Two-thirds of House Republicans voted against raising taxes on the wealthy,” she added. Now, “their leadership is postponing the vote to provide much-needed relief funds that would help ordinary citizens rebuild their lives. There is something wrong with this picture.

“It says something about who we are as a country and as a people that we move without hesitation to provide this needed assistance. And yet the people and communities still suffering the effects of Superstorm Sandy are left to wonder why the House Republican leadership has walked away.”

While the GOP-run House ignored Sandy’s devastation, Weingarten’s union didn’t. The New York City Teachers Retirement System pledged $1 billion in new investments for infrastructure projects in the city and state to help rebuild after the hurricane’s devastation. The reconstruction will create thousands of jobs, added United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew. UFT is New York’s AFT affiliate.

Sandy “brought New York’s pressing needs for repairing and updating our roads and bridges, our water and power systems and middle-income housing into keener focus,” he added. “The teachers of New York City are taking a leadership role in helping to rebuild our city and state.”

Politicians of both parties were upset, too.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who represents a ravaged Long Island district, warned GOP colleagues not to seek campaign cash in New York. And anyone in New York who gives funds to the House GOP’s campaign committee is crazy, King said.

Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., tried to reach Boehner four times to hear why the Speaker deep-sixed the Sandy aid. Boehner didn’t answer the phone. When Christie finally did reach Boehner, after the House adjourned without voting on aid, Christie wasn’t satisfied. “There is no reason for me to believe anything they tell me,” he said.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who had several counties in his district hit by Sandy as it headed up the East Coast from North Carolina to New York, said no one who saw Sandy’s devastation would refuse the aid.

“The 1,000-mile diameter of this storm” was “the largest geographically in the history of the Atlantic hurricanes,” Hoyer said. “Now, at best, the Speaker said Sandy’s victims will need to wait until the next Congress to receive assistance. ‘Wait,’ they say to millions who are in pain and in distress. We should not be waiting. We should be voting this very morning” for the funds on the last day of the 112th Congress, Hoyer said.

“I went with Congressman Greg Meeks to Breezy Point and the Rockaways in New York. What I saw there in Sandy’s aftermath defied description and demanded action.” Congress “deeply underestimates the damage in these areas and the wide range of assistance required to alleviate the pain and suffering.”

Photo: PW/Tumblr


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.