Delay of federal Sandy relief package to squeeze state budgets

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie walks through the U.S. Capitol December 6, 2012 in Washington, DC.

The U.S. House managed to pass a fiscal cliff deal Tuesday night, but there was one measure that did not see the light of day: Superstorm Sandy relief. A $60 billion package passed the Senate in December, but House leadership reneged on its pledge to pass the bill before the end of the session.

Just days after Hurricane Katrina, Congress passed billions of dollars in relief for Louisiana. It’s been more than two months since Superstorm Sandy, and Northeast lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are fuming that they have yet to get their own federal dollars.

Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey said, “shame on Congress,” at a Wednesday news conference. And New York congressman Peter King, a Republican, told Fox News that this is about more than politics.

“I’m talking about the thousands of people in my district. The hundreds of thousands of people in the New York/New Jersey area,” King said.

But does the federal funding delay make a difference to the Northeast?

“Not in the long run,” said Tom Birkland of North Carolina State University, who studies disaster response.

He says this is mostly a symbolic blow, but the funding holdup could delay infrastructure repairs and payments to individual storm victims. States hope to be reimbursed for their storm response, but for now they have to cover their own tab.

“State governments are still very strapped from the last recession,” Birkland said.

And, while House leadership says some funding could pass as early as Friday, with the bulk of it considered mid-month, congressman King thinks it could be February before Congress acts.

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