Originally published by the Minority Economic Report here.
Puerto Rico, an island 1500 miles from the major damage along the Atlantic coast inflicted by Hurricane Sandy, is slated to receive millions of dollars in “emergency relief funding,” originally intended to go to victims of the late October storm.
The Caribbean island, whose hurricane-ravished shores often go unnoticed in the mainland U.S. mostly due to the frequency of storms, sustained some flooding due to the outer bands of Sandy’s wrath. However, it is generally considered to have received relatively minor damage from the storm.
In an effort to underscore Washington’s propensity for adding “pork” to unrelated bills, Taxpayers for Common Sense highlighted this fact, along with many other spending ad-ons expected to total billions of dollars.
Puerto Ricans aren’t the only ones expected to catch a significant windfall from the $54 billion bill, passed this week.
$25 million will be spent on weather forecasting, which is arguably important for improving our knowledge of the impact of storms like Sandy; however, many argue that an “emergency” bill is not the place for this type of amendment.
In addition, $500 million will go to Army Corps of Engineer coastal projects in many locales untouched by Sandy. Another project everyone agrees is beneficial to the public, but not necessarily related to Sandy victims or the relief they require.
Previously, states have contributed to at least one-third of these costs. Now the entire nation, even citizens of inland states hundreds of miles from coastlines, will pay for the improvements.
It is well known that our nation’s infrastructure is in need of extensive repairs. Some members of Congress are now supporting an amendment to spend $2 billion on road improvements to help stymie the problem, regardless of whether they were damaged by a hurricane or flooding.
According to U.S. Representative Tom McClintock (R-CA), “This includes $20 million for places like Guam, American Samoa, and the Mariana Islands. They’re not even in the same ocean [as Sandy was].”
$16 billion will be spent on Community Development efforts as well. While this may sound like the type of funding originally intended for Sandy victims, the money will be available to any state declared a federal disaster area in each of the last three years. Sandy might have impacted 24 states in the Eastern U.S., but this provision allows every state in the union, excluding three, to get in on the action.
McClintock again retorts, “This same Community Development Fund has given money to a Doggie Day Care in Ohio and even provided families a ‘day at the circus’ in New York.” Others have expressed equal concern over the administration of funds provided for “community development.”
Although the big-ticket items of spending are impressive, many more are concerned that the smaller items of unnecessary spending will add up to billions as well. Some of these include: more than a million dollars to the DEA for vehicles repair and replacement, millions of dollars for roof repair at the Smithsonian, and millions for salaries and expenses at the FBI.
The argument against the additional spending with the greatest consensus surrounds the original intention of the bill—relief for Sandy victims and relief right now. Only $4 billion, less than 8% of the entire bill’s cost, will be spent this year. But, because these funds will excluded from the yearly budget, many legislators are finding it easier to avoid the contentious and tedious appropriations process that kills many of their so-called “pet-projects.”
Places like Puerto Rico, where there are 250,000 families earning less than $10,000 per year, can use every penny sent their way. Yet Sandy victims, who are in need of assistance today, were forced to wait (more than eight times as long as Katrina victims) while Congress argues about the additional spending.
JUSTIN VELEZ-HAGAN is Senior Contributing Writer and Commentator for Politic365.com. He is also an Adjunct Instructor of Economics at the University of Maryland-University College and the National Executive Director of The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at Justin@Politic365.com.