2013-03-22 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

Understanding Sandy Aid Funding
Commentary By Peter Corliss

Every day brings new information. Tons of it. And it requires time to sift through it all. I recently ran an event entitled “Understanding Sandy Aid Funding.” Dozens of residents attended. There was engagement. Pro-activity in planning is what we need for education and youth programs, and for rebuilding homes and businesses. The audience, comprised of residents, community leaders and volunteers from groups active in the Rockaways, brought forth their hard questions and their best ideas.

At the event, I shared information about how $50.5 billion in federal funding was passed. Public Law 113-2 (which began its life as H.R. 152) is going to become an increasing part of the Rockaways vocabulary. If you understand this aid package, millions of dollars can be unlocked for the community. Ignore it? And those aid dollars can head to other parts of the city, elsewhere in New York State, or to New Jersey or other Sandy-impacted areas.

When we moved from presentation to discussion, the rebuilding break-out group didn’t talk about mold. Or muck outs. That work is already in process. They wanted to target these aid dollars coming down the pike to see a Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) with a $100,000 grant maximum. That would get our homes elevated over the emerging new Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) levels that are being discussed by FEMA.

Yet there was another side of the coin. Once we get our community back in order, what then? What future is there for families living in the Rockaways? The other half of the room, working in an intense discussion group, wanted to see more test readiness for school kids. More schools. Headstart and afterschool programs. vocational programs. college readiness. Saturday classes. parent-friendly programs. A better communication of curriculum and parent groups spanning across public and charter schools. And they want this funded. They were tired of the teachers having to pay for the textbooks and supplies. It was clear the passion they held.

The last group was focused on business and community. They wanted to see a vibrant Rockaway economy that was also ecologically sound. Something that would be in line with the State’s NYS2100 plan, and backed by the NYC Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR). Things such as employment programs, job training, and revitalization. Something that brought more community spaces into play. More transparency and activity in the Community Board. Weekly community forums. And more of a grass-roots self-representative structure.

Some of these things don’t even take a federal aid package to get going. A lot, as I pointed out to those present, will be dependent upon the participation and dedication of the members of the communities.

Since then, there have been many more events and programs related to Sandy aid. Senator Charles Schumer announced the securing of nearly $1 billion for New York coastal protection, including $300 million for the Rockaways, to rebuild our beaches from Beach 19th up to Beach 149th. That includes dunes. That includes groins. (Apparently John Cori and Eddy Pastore have made sure your voices were heard!)

Even so, the current plan still means we have 4.5 miles of coastline yet to protect between the edge of Neponsit to the tip of Breezy Point. And it doesn’t directly address what to do about bay-side protection, or anything about catastrophic protections in case another Sandy-scale event comes along (e.g., a seawall, flood gates over the Jamaica Bay, etc.). So, we can celebrate for a few seconds, but we already have to strap on on our helmets and get back in the game.

There are billions more at stake. We need to understand each line item of Public Law 113-2, and how it relates to localized aid programs, so we can get those dollars here on the ground where they can do some good. If you have any questions or want to read the research we’ve amassed, please join our discussions on the web at https://www.facebook.com/groups/RockawaysHurricaneSandy.

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