The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Tuesday there's enough money in the government's disaster relief fund for Superstorm Sandy recovery efforts until early spring.
FEMA Director Craig Fugate told the House Transportation Committee that the fund still has about $4.8 billion that can be dispersed. So far, the government has distributed about $2 billion in aid to the 11 states struck by the late October storm.
Fugate's testimony somewhat undercuts appeals by New York, New Jersey and Connecticut for more aid immediately. Those three states alone want another $83 billion. President Obama can request up to another $5.4 billion without hitting a spending ceiling. Several Republicans say more than that should be matched by spending cuts in other federal programs.
President Barack Obama is expected to send Congress his request for emergency Sandy recovery aid this week. The initial amount is certain to be less than the states are requesting.
"The administration is strongly committed to recovery and working with Congress to help communities recover and rebuild," said Fugate.
Given the recent budget talks and the pressures against new spending, Congress is not expected to approve large amounts of additional money all at once.
States hit hard by Sandy are pressing White House officials for as much money as possible, as soon as possible. The administration's request could get tied up in the talks aimed at averting the fiscal cliff before the Dec. 31 deadline — a $6 trillion combination of automatic tax increases and spending cuts— beginning in January.
Lawmakers from states hit by Sandy say they expect the fight for more money to last for months and that several emergency spending bills will probably be needed. They worry that Congress's willingness to provide aid will fade as time goes on.
Transportation panel members urged Fugate to find ways to cut government red tape to get aid quickly to as many people as possible. Fugate said FEMA boosted rental assistance in New York and New Jersey, the hardest hit states, by 125 percent.
But Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said while FEMA has issued millions of dollars for temporary housing, vacancies are hard to find and reimbursements are often too low for whatever is available.
New York lawmakers say that while FEMA may provide storm victims up to $31,900 to repair a home, that's often not enough to rebuild given high costs in a state like New York. Fugate said he's aware of the problem and wants to find a solution.