New York lawmakers: Federal Sandy aid not enough

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Federal aid for businesses that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy has been inadequate, a preliminary report from New York state lawmakers says.

A bipartisan task force of state senators recently conducted tours and roundtables to view storm damage and hear from local officials and community members. The senators found doubt among business owners that enough federal loans would reach them and that their input would matter.

Some said that only grant money would suffice and that many businesses can't afford to take on more debt. In response, the task force recommends that the state explore a direct grant program for hard-hit businesses that won't be able to recover just with loans.

The senators also say insurance checks are not reaching their constituents quickly enough. Insurance money for homeowners may have to pass through banks or other loan providers, and that process has been too slow for many storm victims, the report (.pdf) says. It calls on the legislature and state finance regulators to work out a more efficient system to get the money to policy holders.

The state may also need to issue certifications and licenses to mold remediators. "Perhaps more than any other issue, mold has emerged as an expensive and complicated long-term problem for affected homeowners," the report says.

Looking forward, the task force issues a number of recommendations to prepare for the next major storm, such as ensuring that communities know about changes to Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps.

Community members also criticized some communication failures during Hurricane Sandy, particularly for those who lost access to cellphones and landlines. At one of the task force's roundtables, panelists considered the idea of putting a large television screen in a central location that could broadcast messages without power.

In the future, first responders may need more equipment, the report says. Specifically, police boats and other sea vessels could boost rescue operations in coastal areas.

For more:
- download the report, "Bipartisan Task Force on Hurricane Sandy Recovery: Preliminary Response & Recovery Report" (.pdf)

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