Plugging The Gaps On Sandy Aid
With Memorial Day weekend upon us, the start of the summer tourism season is beginning, and Gov. Chris Christie has spent the past week going up and down the Shore to make certain everyone knows it. His tour is to culminate this morning in Seaside Heights, with an appearance on the "Today" show and a symbolic ribbon-cutting that will signal the Shore is officially open for business.
Despite the fanfare, the news is not so bright for many in New Jersey. In my district, away from the spotlight, towns such as Moonachie and Little Ferry are still struggling to recover from devastating flooding. Thousands of people across the state remain displaced. And every day, New Jerseyans wonder whether their flood insurance and the federal aid will be enough to make them, their families and businesses whole again.
We need to do more. That’s why yesterday I reintroduced legislation that will go a long way toward filling that gap, by providing immediate tax relief to those impacted by Hurricane Sandy. The Hurricane Sandy Tax Relief Act of 2013 has broad, bipartisan support from the New Jersey delegation, and I hope the governor will help us convince the Republican leadership in Congress to swiftly approve it.
My legislation uses well-known and well-understood tax provisions to target relief for families and communities and to finance rebuilding. For example, the bill would waive the high threshold for individuals to claim losses to their personal property, such as damage to their homes and cars. It will provide additional low-income housing tax credits to enable more affordable rental housing to be rebuilt. It provides incentives to help small businesses invest in new equipment that was damaged by the storm. And it will give taxpayers the flexibility to take penalty-free loans from their retirement accounts to help them rebuild and recover.
These steps will help speed our recovery and plug the gap between what federal aid and insurance payments are providing to help New Jersey families and businesses. There is strong precedent for this approach. Tax-relief packages have been passed routinely by Congress in the wake of some of our country’s worst natural disasters. Only three weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf of Mexico region, Congress passed a tax-relief bill. In subsequent years, relief followed for victims of Hurricanes Rita, Wilma and Ike, counties in Kansas hit by storms and tornadoes, and severe weather and flooding in the Midwest.
In fact, Congress at one point authorized general disaster tax relief for victims of any federally declared disaster before Jan. 1, 2010: Victims of more than 130 disasters were able to use these tax provisions to help make themselves whole.
So why has Hurricane Sandy, the second-costliest natural disaster in our country’s history, been treated differently? It’s part of the same disturbing pattern that previously held up the initial federal disaster aid in Congress for more than three months. After decades of stepping up when other parts of the country have been hit by natural disaster, the Northeast is being left to hold the bag during our time of need. This is nothing less than an outrage. Hurricane Sandy victims deserve the same treatment Congress provided to other areas of the country when they faced similar hardship.
Today’s festivities at the Shore prove New Jersey has come a long way in our recovery from Hurricane Sandy. But we are not nearly close to done. As the governor has noted, Hurricane Sandy did $37 billion in damage to our state, but the disaster aid package passed by Congress will cover only $20 billion to $25 billion of those costs.
This tax package will help New Jersey families and businesses plug that gap. I hope my colleagues in Congress will do their duty and provide the kind of tax relief that is sorely needed in New Jersey and across the region to complete our recovery.