I clicked on the live webcast of the U.S. Senate floor proceedings to find New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez pleading for Congress to take up H.R. 1, the Supplemental Appropriations Act that provides $60 billion in disaster funds for Hurricane Sandy. Unfortunately, Senator Menendez, in making his case for federal funding, was showing photographs of affluent Mantoloking, New Jersey. His advocacy shows why it is necessary for Congress to move slowly on the funding request to ensure that the spending gets to individuals and communities who really need assistance.
The proposed spending seems to fail to make distinctions between helping low income people who have no resources, and giving scarce resources to rebuild the summer homes of the wealthy. There was immense suffering in the aftermath of Sandy, but America is not rich enough to make the wealthy and the poor whole from the disaster. That is not the social compact that most Americans believe they have made as residents and citizens. How do we know exactly where the recovery monies will flow?
Mantoloking is a shore community with a year-round population of 296 (according to the 2010 Census) and a summertime population of approximately 5,000. Average income per person is $79,555, versus average income of $35,678 per person in New Jersey and U.S. average income of $27,915, according to the U.S. Census. In a time when the U.S. is asking for sacrifices from its citizens, funding repairs for second homes would seem the last thing Americans can afford. When President Obama sent his funding request to Capitol Hill, one of the parameters he outlined was (emphasis mine):
As a Nation, we have always worked together to assist those who have suffered losses from disasters, and lack adequate resources to rebuild their lives and communities. Assistance should be targeted primarily to low- and moderate- income individuals and families, and limited to repairing and rebuilding primary residences only.
Rushing $60 billion of funds to states might make Congress feel good, but it’s likely that it will be paid for with cuts in other areas of the budget such as reducing cost of living increases for Social Security.