The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

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State and Nation

January 12, 2013

Sandy relief package swells aid for past disasters

(Continued)

State and local governments like block grants because they provide more flexibility in how the money is spent. The money can go toward a variety of needs, including hospitals, utilities, roads, small businesses and rent subsidies.

The Northeast lawmakers' $33.7 billion amendment also includes more than $135 million to help the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration improve weather forecasting.

"A lot of the money goes to government agencies to rebuild rather than helping people actually afflicted by Sandy," Ellis said.

Before getting to the aid measures, the House on Monday planned to consider legislation intended to streamline Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations that critics blame for slowing down recovery efforts. That bill would let FEMA make limited repairs instead of lease payments to provide housing that might be less expensive than traditional agency trailers.

A $60.4 billion storm aid package passed by the Senate in December included $188 million for an Amtrak expansion project with an indirect link to Sandy: Officials say that new, long-planned tunnels from New Jersey to Penn Station in Manhattan would be better protected against future flooding.

The Club for Growth, a conservative group, complained the Senate bill was overpriced, full of pork and would swell the federal deficit because other government programs weren't being cut to cover the costs of the legislation. That bill expired with the old Congress on Jan. 3. So whatever additional aid package the House passes would have to go back to the Senate for its approval.

Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, two frequent critics of government spending, tried unsuccessfully to strip the Senate version of $125 million for an Agriculture Department program to restore watersheds damaged by wildfires and drought, $2 million for roof repairs at Smithsonian Institution museums in the Washington area and the $50 million in tree planting subsidies.

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