Sandy relief bill faces ‘not-so-fast’ criticism

WASHINGTON — Conservatives and watchdog groups are mounting a ‘‘not-so-fast’’ campaign against a $50.7 billion Hurricane Sandy aid package that Northeastern governors and lawmakers hope to push through the House this week.

Their complaint is that lots of the money that lawmakers are considering will actually go toward recovery efforts for past disasters and other projects unrelated to the late-October storm.

A Senate-passed version from the end of the last Congress had $150 million for what the Commerce Department described as fisheries disasters in Alaska, Mississippi, and the Northeast, and $50 million in subsidies to put trees on private land damaged by wildfires.


The objections have led senior House Republicans to assemble a $17 billion proposal that, when combined with already approved money for flood insurance claims, is less than half the amount President Obama sought and the Senate passed in December.

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That $17 billion package will be brought to the floor by the House Appropriations Committee, and Northeastern lawmakers will have a chance to add $33.7 billion more.

House Speaker John Boehner plans to let the House vote on both measures. He is responding both to conservatives opposed to more deficit spending, and to Governor Andrew Cuomo, a New York Democrat, and Governor Chris Christie, a New Jersey Republican, who both are irate that the House has not acted sooner.

Critics are taking the sharpest aim at $12.1 billion in the amendment for Department of Housing and Urban Development emergency block grants.

Any state struck by a federally declared major disaster in 2011, 2012, or this year would qualify for the grants, and that is just about all the states, said Stephen Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group. Only South Carolina, Arizona, and Michigan would not qualify, he said.


‘‘That’s not a bad chunk of change, particularly if you are trying to get other lawmakers to vote for the bill,’’ Ellis said.

State and local governments like block grants because they provide more flexibility in how the money is spent. The money can go toward a variety of needs, including hospitals, utilities, roads, small businesses, and rent subsidies.

The Northeastern lawmakers’ $33.7 billion amendment also includes about $135 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to seek improvements in weather forecasting.

Before getting to the aid measures, the House on Monday plans to consider legislation intended to streamline Federal Emergency Management Agency rules that critics blame for slowing down recovery efforts. That bill would let FEMA make limited repairs rather than lease payments for housing that might be less expensive than agency trailers.

A $60.4 billion storm aid package passed by the Senate in December included $188 million for an Amtrak expansion project with an indirect link to Sandy: Officials say that new, long-planned tunnels from New Jersey to Penn Station in Manhattan would be better protected against flooding.