On New Year’s Day I headed to the Ocean Place Hotel, where my husband, Mike, works in the restaurant. The Ocean Place, like so many hotels on the Jersey Shore, has become a temporary home to many families whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Many of these families are from the small town of Sea Bright – 80 percent of whose residents cannot return to their homes, without extensive repairs or complete rebuilding.
The lounge was busy that evening, as it has been since the storm, as the families in the hotel do not have kitchens in their rooms so they are dependent on the restaurants for their meals. As we were eating dinner the televisions had live coverage of the House of Representatives voting on the fiscal cliff deal. Discussion at the bar was focused on another piece of legislation that the House was supposed to vote on that night—the Sandy Relief Bill. Of significance in that bill is $9 billion that would increase the borrowing authority of the National Flood Insurance Program for Sandy from $20.7 billion to $30.4 billion, along with $51 billion to provide immediate help for victims and other recovery and rebuilding efforts.
The residents here at the Jersey Shore are quite aware of what federal aid means. The man sitting next to me at dinner told me that if not for the government support to provide him temporary housing at the hotel, he would be living in his car. Others spoke of not only losing their homes but their jobs, as businesses were washed away into the Atlantic Ocean. If not for rental assistance from FEMA, these families would not be able to afford to have a roof over their heads. One of my closest friends, Erika, lost the entire first floor of her home in Long Branch. Erika is one of the “lucky” ones—she, her husband, two small children, dog and bird, are able to stay at her parent’s home, while her husband spends every hour that he is not at his job rebuilding their home. Erika has been chronicling her post-Sandy experience of trying to rebuild in her blog: a worthwhile read for members of Congress and one to which they should all subscribe. . Life after Sandy has taken a toll on so many Jersey Shore families’ economic and emotional security.
So when the Sandy Relief Bill was not brought up for a vote in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, the Jersey Shore took another hit. In days of fiscal cliff discussions that focused on protecting the middle class from tax increases that would significantly harm families, it seems that some members of Congress are failing to protect the most vulnerable who had the unfortunate luck of being in the path of Hurricane Sandy.
Thanks to the direct action of the NJ and NY Congressional delegations, along with Governors Christie and Cuomo, Speaker Boehner has now promised a Friday vote on a smaller piece of Sandy relief — $9 billion for flood insurance — then will take up the other parts of the relief on January 15. However since the current Congress will no longer exist after today, the new House bill will now have to be passed in the Senate, too. Yet while all this political maneuvering continues in Congress, so many of my neighbors and friends at the Jersey Shore will just be wondering where they will be living and working. Let’s hope the new Congress won’t forget them