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As New York Officials Deliver Damage Estimates, Prospects for Supplemental Funding Remote

It’s easy to forget, amid the non-stop talk about long-term deficits, that the East Coast remains fairly ruined from the effects of Superstorm Sandy. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – who’s going to win re-election next year by saying he’s the only man in the state equipped to handle the reconstruction efforts – already released his estimate of damages to his state – $29.5 billion. Now, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has released his estimate, and combined, the total for just these two states far exceeds the $50 billion initial analysis of the cost of damages.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared Superstorm Sandy in some ways worse than 2005’s Hurricane Katrina as he said his state would need $42 billion to recover from the damage wreaked in late October and prevent future catastrophe.

The figure includes more than $32 billion for damage and restoration and an additional $9 billion to head off damage in future storms, including steps to protect the power grid and cellphone network.

As he and other political leaders in his state conferred on how much federal aid to seek, he said New York taxpayers can’t foot the bill.

“It would incapacitate the state,” he said at a news conference Monday. “Tax increases are always a last, last, last resort.”

That includes $19 billion for New York City alone, for which Mayor Bloomberg plans to ask the federal government to pay around half, $9.8 billion.

Nobody in Washington wants to talk about the need for aid to the East Coast to help the victims of the storm. It would actually involve the dispensation of funds, which apparently since late 2010 or so you’re not allowed to do, even in the event of a major disaster. This is an artifact of deficit obsession, a situation where even unpredictable human needs cannot be met. Don’t let anyone tell you that “just words” did no damage to progressive goals.

I mean, Chuck Schumer, perhaps the most voluble Senator in American history, was really rendered mute by the enormity of the task ahead. Here’s his reaction to a meeting with Cuomo, Bloomberg and other local leaders yesterday:

New York has suffered unprecedented damage from Hurricane Sandy, both wide and deep, and it demands a strong and equally serious response from the Federal Government. The Governor, after conferring with Mayor Bloomberg and the county executives, has given us a detailed and serious disaster damage estimate that extensively documents the severe harm that New York and New Yorkers have suffered. Working with the Administration and the delegation, as well as with colleagues from other affected states, we will do everything we can to maximize the relief New York receives.

Make no mistake, this will not be an easy task, particularly given the impending fiscal cliff, and a Congress that has been much less friendly to disaster relief than in the past. We will work with the Administration on supplemental legislation, to be introduced in the upcoming December session of Congress, that will set us on the road to meeting New York’s needs. This will be an effort that lasts not weeks, but many months, and we will not rest until the federal response meets New York’s deep and extensive needs.

That’s a very nice way of saying “You’re probably not going to get anything.” Which is truly incredible. Stiffing the East Coast in a time of need like this, because it might disrupt the grand and golden deficit reduction plans, is really a national disgrace.

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David Dayen

David Dayen