(The Root) — In its first legislative act of the new session, Congress approved a $9.7 billion aid package for victims of superstorm Sandy today. The measure passed unanimously in the Senate and 354 to 67 in the House, just days after the previous session shelved a vote on a much larger assistance plan for storm victims.
Lawmakers from both houses will weigh in on $51 billion in additional Sandy aid on Jan. 15.
Not everyone on the Hill is thrilled or particularly hopeful about the development, though — especially some elected officials who remain frustrated on behalf of their superstorm-victim constituents.
In a statement released today, Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York said he was "pleased" to see the bill pass but called it "woefully insufficient" in addressing the needs of those affected by the disaster.
"It is disappointing, disgusting and frustrating that the House Republican leadership continues to play politics in delaying a vote to fully fund disaster relief," he said. "I hope sincerely that the Republican leadership honors its commitment to holding a vote on the rest of disaster relief funding on Jan. 15, for we must act swiftly to ensure millions do not continue to suffer under the yoke of partisanship.”
Asked by The Root whether about his impression of the impact of the storm and relief delays on communities of color — a concern raised by the NAACP in the weeks after the disaster — Meeks said Sandy "affected everybody that's on the peninsula — rich, poor, black, white, but it affected different people in different ways."
But the differences, he said, boil down to economics. "The effect of the delay is really devastating to individuals who are working class, who live paycheck to paycheck, and a large number of those individuals are minorities," Meeks explained. "Part of it is that if you are in that position [living paycheck to paycheck], delaying the aid money is delaying you in other ways — getting your house fixed, or getting a job, because small businesses are closed down."
For example, Meeks explained, many of those affected who live in public housing went without power for three weeks after the storm. "They had no heat or hot water," he said. "So while they didn't have property damage, they had personal damage. If you have money — if you're a person of means — you aren't affected in those ways."