The House of Representatives is expected to take up a vote today on H.R. 152, a bill which would provide "supplemental appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2013." Introduced in the House by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), H.R. 152 is the much debated and hotly contested disaster relief bill which would provide $17 billion in disaster relief specifically for relief from the effects of Hurricane Sandy.
An amended version of H.R. 152 proposed by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) would increase this funding by $33.7 billion to bring the total closer to the earlier Senate version voted on in December calling for approximately $60 billion in total relief spending. Much like the Senate version of the package, Rep. Frelinghuysen's amendment is being opposed by many hard-line conservatives because it includes funding for longer-term recovery efforts and infrastructure improvements intended to help prevent damage caused by future disasters.
Regrettably for local fishermen impacted by the devastating effects of Sandy in late October, funding for the federally declared fisheries disaster in the New Jersey and New York region has been cut to a paltry $5 million for both states, monies which will have to be shared by both recreational and commercial fishing interests alike who were victims of the storm.
On Monday night, the 13-member House Rules Committee met to review close to 100 additional amendments offered to cut or offset money included in both the underlying Rogers bill and the Frelinghuysen amendment, including one from Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) which would increase federal fisheries disaster funding for New York and New Jersey by $45 million and another by the New England delegation to increase overall funding for fisheries disaster assistance by $145 million, the level approved by the Senate, while also reducing NOAA funding not specified for Hurricane Sandy relief. The House Rules committee however shot down both of these amendments and all but 13 other amendments which will face a vote today in the House.
Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) executive director Jim Donofrio yesterday sent a letter to the House Rules Committee seeking support for the Pallone amendment, as well as amendments offered by Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) and Rep. Jon Runyan (R-NJ). The Runyan amendment approved by the committee clarifies that the $5 million in fisheries disaster money listed in the Frelinghuysen amendment is to be intended for states that were both impacted by Hurricane Sandy and suffered a fisheries disaster in 2012.
"We're looking at uninsurable loss to the recreational fishing industry alone in New York and New Jersey to easily top $150 million, with virtually no light at the end of the tunnel," Donofrio said. "I have to agree with Governor Christie, Congress needs to treat New Jersey and New York the same as other states like Mississippi and Louisiana, nothing more and nothing less."
Donofrio said the Frelinghuysen amendment includes $16 billion in community development grants which could be used to support small business owners, but he said the basic rule given to support fishermen as outlined in the Magnuson-Stevens Act has been completely ignored by the House. "In the wake of Katrina, there was $17.5 million in approved appropriations each of five years to support our fishing industry there, yet when it comes to the northeast and Mid-Atlantic States and our coastal fishing industry, we see nothing but horrible partisanship in Congress."
"It's hard to believe that the House readily supports $150 million in regional ocean partnership grants in this legislation for ocean mapping which has nothing to do with jobs, yet our coastal fishing communities devastated by a natural disaster will be is given a paltry $5 million," Donofrio said. "More fighting over NOAA scraps, same thing, new Congress, it's sickening."
(Read RFA's Sandy relief appeal letter at http://www.joinrfa.org/Press/SandySupport_011413.pdf)