One Year After Sandy, Only a Fraction of Aid Money Has Been Spent

One year after Superstorm Sandy devastated the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, the federal government has paid only a fraction of the money set aside for rebuilding and recovery.

A review of federal agency databases and project lists by the News4 I-Team shows less than $10 billion of the $50 billion in emergency aid has been distributed to local communities and cities impacted by the storm.

Several D.C.-area repairs are languishing, with estimated completion dates as late as 2016.

Congress, after a heated debate and a narrow vote, approved the $50 billion "emergency supplemental" plan in January to fund restoration and reconstruction efforts. The distribution of the fund, overseen primarily by a task force headed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is ongoing and incomplete.

About $20 billion have yet to be allocated by Washington. As of the more recent formal report by the agency, in late August, less than $6 billion has actually been "outlayed," meaning paid out to local communities.

The News4 I-Team’s review found an eight-month wait before some roof repairs commenced at the storm-damaged Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The Smithsonian Institution was given nearly $2 million in emergency aid for repairs, including for a leaking roof.

A blue tarp still covers the roof of a US Park Police facility along Oregon Avenue in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park, where a falling tree caused damaged during the storm. Park records show repairs aren’t expected to be completed until late November.

A flood relief project at Haines Point in D.C. isn’t projected for completion until 2016, despite being specifically earmarked for some of the $50 billion in Sandy relief aid.

Virginia transportation and emergency management authorities said they are still awaiting reimbursement for some debris removal and repair projects, many of which have already been completed. A Fairfax city official said the community is expecting the federal government to use Sandy relief aid funding to reimburse the city for its repair of a traffic signal system at an intersection along Jermantown Road, a repair which cost nearly $5,000.

"The administration and federal agencies have announced or allocated over $27 billion in funds and grants to assist in the recovery of impacted communities, and local grantees charged with getting those funds out have been encouraged to expedite their procedures and processes to ensure that the funds are making an impact on the ground as soon as possible," said Housing and Urban Development spokesman George Gonzalez in a statement to the News4 I-Team.

A National Park Service spokesman said the agency prioritized "emergency stabilization" while planning its restoration efforts, focusing its initial efforts toward preventing "further damage… patching holes, replacing a broken window, or shutting off a broken water line."

The spokesman said, "Permanent repairs are the most disruptive to visitors and often have a long lead time for planning and design."

The U.S. Transportation Department, including its transit agency, will oversee billions of dollars in repairs.

An agency spokesman said, "In the year since Hurricane Sandy triggered the worst public transportation disaster in U.S. history, the Federal Transit Administration has cut through red tape to make $5.7 billion in aid available in record time."

Taxpayer advocacy groups question whether the emergency aid fund includes some non-emergency projects, allowing a gridlocked Congress to fund worthwhile projects that would otherwise go unfunded.

"This was supposed to be emergency money. This was supposed to be immediate. People were crying 'It's been 80 days, we need to have this money.' And now we know this money isn't gonna be spent for years."

A Congressional Budget Office review of the Sandy relief fund estimates some of rebuilding work isn’t slated for completion until 2019.

Ken Rudnicki, director of emergency management for Fairfax, Va., said the federal government is wise to avoid rushing its distribution of the fund. "It's an extensive process, with lots of paperwork," Rudnicki said. "But it has to be. They have to watch out for fraud and abuse."

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