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New Jersey’s Christie asks FEMA to fully underwrite post-storm work

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012 9:32 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has made his first formal request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fully reimburse state and local governments for the cost of debris removal and emergency protection measures in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

“It has become clear that the financial burden and economic hardship still confronted by our state and communities threatens the ability to continue debris removal operations at the existing cost-share ratio,” Christie said in a letter to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. The letter, dated Nov. 30, was made public Monday by Christie’s office.

The agency’s public assistance program generally reimburses 75 percent of the cost and requires state and local governments to cover the rest.

In the weeks following the Oct. 29 storm, President Barack Obama increased the federal reimbursement rate to 100 percent for emergency power restoration and emergency public transportation assistance.

Last week Christie put the storm’s cost — including damage and improvements to prevent future losses — at an estimated $36.9 billion. But the governor has offered little detail on how the state arrived at that figure, which also includes costs that insurance companies would cover. When he provided that figure, Christie said he was examining the federal reimbursement rate and would make “reasonable requests.”

Natural disasters are exempt from New Jersey’s 2 percent cap on local property tax increases, which means towns could turn to taxpayers to fund any costs associated with the storm.

In his letter, Christie said Sandy left 22,000 homes uninhabitable and 325,000 others significantly damaged. Christie asked Fugate to increase the debris removal and emergency protection reimbursement rate from 75 percent to 100 percent for at least 90 days.

“Any slowing of progress in continuing these essential operations in our communities puts in jeopardy a timely rehabilitation of our shore areas, relief from economic distress, and the removal of threats to the public health and safety,” Christie wrote.

He cited other instances in which the federal government offered 100 percent reimbursement, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Christie had said he would lobby Congress for supplemental funding to help the state recover from the devastating storm, which washed houses out to sea and ripped away large stretches of boardwalk.

The Republican governor has pledged to work with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, who has put his state’s damage at $42 billion. They issued a joint statement saying they hope to secure aid by the end of the year.

“The two states represent a combined regional and national economic powerhouse with intersecting and overlapping interests in terms of our local economies, U.S. and world financial markets, transit and highway infrastructure and tourism,” the statement said. “These economic and geographic factors motivate us and our congressional delegations to make a mutual, non-partisan commitment to bringing the appropriate federal aid back to our states as expeditiously as possible.”

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