Congress rushed to send $60.4 billion in emergency money to aid Superstorm Sandy victims, saying people’s lives depended on getting the full amount out the door as fast as possible — but a year after the storm, the tally shows very little has been spent.
The storm left more than 100 people dead and caused billions of dollars in damage along the Northeast coast, making landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29, 2012, and did the worst of its damage to that state and neighboring New York.
Officials initially pressed for $80 billion in federal aid, but Congress cut that by about a quarter and passed two bills in January to get the money flowing.
But as of Aug. 31, the most recent financial report from the federal Sandy task force shows that only about one-fifth of the money has been obligated and little more than $5 billion, or 11 percent, has been paid out.
On Monday, the administration released a fact sheet saying that in the ensuing two months, another $8.5 billion has been paid out, bringing the total to $13.5 billion.
Federal agencies say they have been trying to push out the money as quickly as possible but that Sandy spending is proceeding at the usual pace for disasters, which means it could take years to account for all of the money Congress has approved.
Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who is the top waste-watcher on Capitol Hill, said that means either Congress acted too quickly to front-load the money or the Obama administration has been too slow in delivering aid.
“It has been nearly 10 months since disaster aid was appropriated and I am troubled by the fact that so little money has reached the people who need it,” Mr. Coburn wrote in a letter Friday to Shaun L.S. Donovan, the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development who is overseeing the federal Sandy task force. “Concerns over the pace of the recovery continued to grow and one year later many residents of states affected by Hurricane Sandy continue to wait for help.”
Mr. Coburn, the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sent staffers to the storm-damaged region and said local officials reported that it was hard to get straight answers from the government.
HUD is responsible for a huge portion of the Sandy money. Some $15.2 billion was designated for the department’s Community Development Block Grant program. But as of Aug. 31, just $2.1 billion had been obligated and just $135 million had been spent — less than 1 percent of the designated funds.
In February, HUD said, it approved sending the first $5.4 billion. The department did not provide a comment, so it was unclear why the department obligated less than half of the money it said it allotted.
But on Monday, three days after Mr. Coburn’s letter prodding Mr. Donovan, HUD announced that it had approved another $5 billion.
“One year later, it’s clear these communities continue to be challenged by the sheer scale of this devastating storm, requiring further investment to make certain these needs are met,” Mr. Donovan said in a HUD press release.
At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney vowed that the administration hasn’t lost sight of the victims still struggling to find housing or get their businesses up and running.
“I think that we have demonstrated that commitment throughout the past year, and it’s an ongoing commitment, and that includes the provision of aid as well as numerous other projects underway as part of the administration’s work with the affected states,” he said.