Washington, DC – On the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand took to the Senate floor today to honor the lives lost and stand in unity with hundreds of thousands of struggling New Yorkers whose lives remain uprooted by the devastation. Senator Gillibrand urged her colleagues to pass a bipartisan bill she co-sponsored today called the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act that would require FEMA to complete an affordability study and provide real solutions to make rates more affordable before any flood insurance premiums can be raised in the future.
Senator also pushed for the STRONG Act, bipartisan legislation she authored to strengthen the resiliency of New York’s infrastructure and help build a smarter and stronger city, state, and nation. The Senator noted that a great deal of work still lies ahead to put New York further along on the road to resiliency.
“On the first anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, we remember the lives lost and the countless others who are slowly piecing their lives back together. Amid the destruction, I have seen the best of New York; neighbors coming together, extraordinary people doing extraordinary things,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We have come a long way in the past year, but we still face many challenges. I will continue to push for common-sense policies that remove burdensome restrictions and get relief into the hands of those who desperately need it. Our families, homeowners, and small businesses working so hard to rebuild deserve nothing less. While the road to recovery is long and hard, New Yorkers are resilient and will rebuild better and stronger. As we learn the lessons of the storm, we must develop a national, storm-resilient strategy to ensure that communities from the Rockaways to Long Beach are armed with innovative practices to protect New York from future disasters.”
Senator Gillibrand’s Remarks
Today, it has been exactly one year since Superstorm Sandy hit my home state of New York and the surrounding region. Today is a solemn day where we pause to remember the unimaginable loss of 61 precious lives, and the great collective pain as countless other lives were shattered…over 300,000 homes were damaged or destroyed… and businesses lay in rubble…over 250,000 businesses affected in all, many of which are still unable to open their doors.
But there is something else to remember today. In the days, weeks and months that followed Superstorm Sandy, we also saw the absolute best of New York.
We know that New Yorkers are a resilient bunch. We get knocked down, but we get right back up. And as I traveled all across New York City, I saw neighbors coming together, going door to door to help the homebound, donating resources, volunteering their time, clearing debris.
In the Rockaways, I saw hundreds of residents create an impromptu bustling plaza of hot food and warm clothing for those in need.
I remember talking to one small business owner in Staten Island — whose restaurant was nearly split in two by a boat from the nearby marina. He simply said to me: “We will rebuild and we will rebuild better than before.” I also asked him that day to have dinner in that very spot where that boat was resting. And he said yes. We did that just a few months ago and it was amazing.
In Westchester, a small business owner gave me a hug and she vowed she would rebuild because as she said defiantly, “This is our community.”
On Long Island, I walked the streets of Lindenhurst, Massapequa, visited Long Beach and Fire Island. And while the devastation I saw was awful, I have never met more resilient and compassionate people. I witnessed homeowners struggling to pick up their own pieces go out of the way to help neighbors – sharing food, water, supplies; giving each other rides to the store, sharing generators, and clearing each other’s debris.
While the road to recovery is very long and very hard, New Yorkers will rebuild and they will rebuild stronger.
But we also have to do our part. Too many communities are still recovering and rebuilding – some families are actually still homeless, living in trailers or confined to the second floors of their homes, still waiting for additional assistance.
Too many homeowners have not yet received the funding to repair their homes and their businesses, and too often, those that are struggling to rebuild have been caught up in red tape.
Throughout the past year, I have pushed to change some of the Federal policies that have stood in the way of recovery, and we have had some successes.
We were successful in pushing FEMA to extend critical deadlines for Sandy survivors to document their losses, so that those who have had trouble getting back into their homes are not prevented from filing flood insurance claims.
We were able to get the Department of Housing and Urban Development to relax regulations that would have prevented substantially damaged homes from accessing critical recovery funds.
And we received assurances from the Army Corps of Engineers will fund critical shore protection projects at full federal expense, ensuring that these projects can move forward quickly, without having to wait for communities to find the matching funds out of local budgets that are already stretched too thin.
But that’s really not enough. Because, for all of our successes, we still are facing so many challenges. There is still far too much red tape getting in between families and recovery. My office hears every single day from homeowners and families who are struggling to just move forward.
Many of us are working on a bipartisan bill to postpone the potentially disastrous flood insurance rate increases coming into effect as a result of the Biggert-Waters flood insurance reform law. So I urge my colleagues in the Senate to pass this bipartisan bill that was introduced by Senators Menendez and Isakson that would delay the premium increases set to go into effect until after FEMA has done a study and provided Congress with a plan to make the rates basically affordable. Our families work so hard trying to rebuild and frankly, they deserve nothing less.
Some homeowners – even as they do rebuild – have started seeing their rates increase. This could cause many of my constituents to be forced out of the homes and communities that they love.
This is why the Menendez-Isakson bill is so critical, and why I strongly urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this common-sense legislation.
As we focus on providing communities with all of the resources they need to rebuild from Sandy, the federal government is partnering with States, local governments, the private sector and academia to develop solutions that will protect us from the next disaster. We know that for every dollar spent to make our homes, businesses and infrastructure more resilient, four dollars in potential recovery costs down the road are saved.
Earlier this year, Senator Wicker and I introduced the STRONG Act – which stands for Strengthening the Resiliency of Our Nation on the Ground.
This bipartisan bill to build on the progress that is being made locally, requires the Federal government to develop a national resiliency strategy and assess where the gaps are and opportunities for improvement lie. It would also create a new information portal for both the public and private sectors to share information on how to strengthen our communities against future extreme weather threats.
Mr. President, we have come a very long way in the past year, but I’m very sad to say we have so much more work to be done. Our communities are working as hard as ever to recover – but we have to work equally as hard towards rebuilding and being better prepared for the next storm.