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How Long Does Disaster Recovery Take?

In October, as the death toll from Hurricane Maria continued to rise, President Trump remarked that disaster recovery workers from the States couldn’t be expected to stay in Puerto Rico “forever.”

“We cannot keep FEMA, the military & the first responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in [Puerto Rico] forever,” he tweeted. The Atlantic reported that no such remarks had been made about Texas or Florida.

Legislators and Puerto Rico government leaders alike have been sending letters reminding decision makers of the continued need for help in Puerto Rico. There are still residents doing without power, safe drinking water, roofs, and passable roads.

Puerto Rico has moved out of the headlines, and some leaders worry that out of sight may be out of mind.

Meanwhile, another leader is reminding legislators of another disaster.

Reminder of Hurricane Sandy

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) recently wrote a letter to the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Rep. Rodney Procter Frelinghuyse (R-NJ) reminding them that recovery was still not complete in his district.

Hurricane Sandy hit New York — and, to varying degrees, 23 other states — in 2012 and caused almost $70 billion worth of damage. King began by reminding his readers of the severity of the storm. 

“When Hurricane Sandy decimated New York,” he wrote, “it was the second costliest hurricane in the United States.” It has since been surpassed by Hurricanes Harvey and Maria.

“At that time,” King continued, “my colleagues from the Northeast and I had to fight hard for funding to rebuild our communities. Despite the unfair treatment we were given, I did not hold it against other areas of the country — like Texas or Florida — when they faced similar situations. One bad turn does not deserve another.”

The impetus for the letter was a package of rescissions (cuts) of funds appropriated but not yet spent. While most of the funds in question are related to healthcare, the package includes $107 million in funds for rebuilding for Hurricane Sandy.

These funds require matching contributions from communities, which have had trouble coming up with their share of the money. The New York Post quoted “a senior administration official” as saying the money “was never going to be spent.”

Rep. King disagrees.

“It would be morally wrong to renege on the commitments made to New York and the rest of the Northeast by rescinding funding for ongoing work to continue rebuilding from Hurricane Sandy. I implore you to reject any such cuts.”

How long does recovery take?

CNN estimated last year that the federal government had covered 80% of the costs of Hurricane Sandy and 72% of those of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005.

Six years after Hurricane Sandy hit, communities are still working to rebuild. Hurricane Katrina was still rebuilding — but feeling optimistic — after 10 years.

Puerto Rico, with a higher poverty level and a weaker infrastructure, may need just as long.


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