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Democrats Seek GOP Support for Monday Disaster Aid Vote

Even Republicans whose own states are frequent victims of hurricanes have reservations about the pending Senate bill.

“Being from Florida, I anticipate that one day, unfortunately, we may have another storm of that sort of magnitude. So we definitely want to get them help, but at the same time, I want to see what’s in it,” said Marco Rubio, R-Fla. “It’s got to be reasonable and storm-related. I want to make sure that there are not things in there that don’t belong.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee measure released Wednesday is intended to pump money immediately into programs that will quickly funnel aid to people who suffered losses from the late October storm, and to allocate billions to allow for long-term planning on major projects to begin immediately.

If the Senate bill is enacted, only about $8.97 billion would be spent in the current budget year, which ends Sept. 30, 2013, according to CBO. More than half of this, $5.3 billion, represents expected outlays from the National Flood Insurance Program. Another $1.2 billion of expected actual fiscal 2013 spending would come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund.

A key driver of this spending would be the Community Development Fund, which the Senate bill envisions as a flexible tool to allow communities to address a wide variety of needs, such as restoring damaged housing. Spending from that account would jump to $3.4 billion in fiscal 2014 from $75 million in fiscal 2013. Fiscal 2015 spending would represent a peak for this program, with the CBO seeing $3.8 billion spent.

Schumer said the advance funding is critical to the recovery effort. “If a locality is going to rebuild a road or tunnel, they need to know that the money is there to sign the contract, to know that they will be reimbursed,” Schumer said. “You can’t say, ‘We’ll fix a large tunnel, the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. We’ll fix the tunnel, about a half a mile of it this year, and then we’ll see if we can get the money next year.’”

Schumer also said CBO may be looking at what happened after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina as the model, but in that catastrophe, many people didn’t return home and begin seeking federal aid to rebuild homes for many months.

In general, the Senate bill closely resembles the White House’s $60.4 billion request made on Dec. 7, but it adds some new spending not specifically mentioned in the Obama administration’s proposal. Included would be $125 million for a Department of Agriculture watershed program that could help Colorado cope with the aftermath of the summer’s wildfires and $50 million for the National Parks Service’s Historic Preservation Fund. The Sandy bill also would include $150 million for fisheries that have faced recent disasters in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as New England, said Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who had sought this funding to address the marine debris washing up on the coasts of Western states from the Japan earthquake of March 2011.

“The failure of Chinook returns in 2010, 2011 and 2012 had a devastating impact on commercial and subsistence fisheries in Alaska,” Begich said in a written statement. “These much-needed funds will help make communities whole and hopefully help fund research on factors affecting Chinook returns.”

Niels Lesniewski and Geof Koss contributed to this story.

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