WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama asked Congress on Friday for $60.4 billion in federal aid for New York, New Jersey and other states hit by Superstorm Sandy in late October. It's a disaster whose cost is rivaled only by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the 2005 Hurricane that devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
Obama's request adds a new to-do item to a congressional agenda already packed with controversy on how to resolve the nation's budget woes and avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.
"Our Nation has an obligation to assist those who suffered losses and who lack adequate resources to rebuild their lives," Jeffrey D. Zients, deputy director of the budget office, wrote congressional leaders in a letter accompanying the formal request. "At the same time, we are committed to ensuring Federal resources are used responsibly and that the recovery effort is a shared undertaking."
The measure blends aid for homeowners, businesses, and state and local government walloped by Sandy and comes with just a few weeks to go before Congress adjourns. Whether it passes this month or gets delayed in whole or part until next year is unclear.
The request comes after protracted discussions with lawmakers and officials from impacted areas. Officials from the affected states had requested significantly more money, but they praised the request and urged Congress to enact it as quickly as possible.
"Today's agreement on the administration's request to Congress would authorize more than $60 billion in funding that will enable our states to recover, repair, and rebuild better and stronger than before," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said in a joint statement. "We thank President Obama for his steadfast commitment of support and look forward to continuing our partnership in the recovery effort."
Cuomo, a Democrat, and Christie, a Republican, came to Washington on Thursday to press for as large a disaster aid package as possible. Friday's request was at the top end of what had been expected.
The aid request could face a turbulent path on Capitol Hill, especially from tea party House Republicans who are likely to press for budget cuts elsewhere to offset whatever disaster aid is approved.
As is traditional in natural disasters, the request was not accompanied by offsetting spending cuts to defray its cost.
The aid will help states rebuild public infrastructure like roads and tunnels and help thousands of people displaced from their homes. Sandy was the most costly natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and one of the worst storms ever in the Northeast.
The measure contains $11.5 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's chief disaster relief fund and $17 billion for community development block grants, much of which would help homeowners repair or replace their homes. Another $11.7 billion would help repair New York City's subways and other mass transit damage, while $9.7 billion would go toward the government's flood insurance program. Another $5.3 billion would go to the Army Corps of Engineers to mitigate flood future risks and rebuild damaged projects.
The late October storm flooded parts of the East Coast when it roared ashore, creating a storm surge that left parts of New York City underwater and millions of people in several states without heat or electricity for weeks.