Your reader Mr. Russ Andrews took exception to my letter to the editor (“Disaster not a bargaining chip,” Aspen Daily News, Jan. 19) admonishing our Congressman Scott Tipton for voting against the Superstorm Sandy Disaster Relief bill. Mr. Andrews, in his letter (“Hidden pork and U.S. debt,” Aspen Daily News, Jan. 26), incorrectly stated that less than half of the aid bill was slated to relieve victims of Superstorm Sandy and Mr. Andrews went on to list items in the bill that did not relate to Sandy. Unfortunately Mr. Andrews did not receive accurate information regarding the bill. One of his objectionable items was the $150 million for Alaskan fisheries, and after there was justifiable public outcry, this project was actually stripped from this bill and was not in the House bill Congressman Tipton voted on. The other projects Mr. Andrews listed as “non-relief” spending actually were very much for areas which were subject to a direct hit from Sandy. Mr. Andrews may not remember, but Washington D.C. suffered a direct hit from Hurricane Sandy. What was supposed to be a 24 minute storm actually turned into a 24 hour storm, which thereby dealt a great deal of damage to our nation’s capitol. I have corrected Mr. Andrew’s list by adding the truthful description of each item in parenthesizes:
• $2 million for a new roof for the Smithsonian Museum (“for expenses related to the consequences of Hurricane Sandy”).
• $4 million for the Kennedy Space Center ($15 million “for repair at National Aeronautics and Space Administration facilities damaged by Hurricane Sandy”).
• $8 million for a new car fleet for the Justice Department ($21.25 million for the Department of Justice split between the FBI the DEA the ATF all for “necessary expenses related to the consequences of Hurricane Sandy”).
• $150 million for Alaskan fisheries (which was stripped from the bill and not in the House bill Congressman Tipton voted on).
• $270 million in new Amtrak spending beyond the $30 million already approved to cover Amtrak’s insurance deductible related to Sandy. It provides $32 million for repairs and $86 million for “recovery and resiliency in the affected areas” and “for necessary repairs related to the consequences of Hurricane Sandy,” for a total of $112 million. It is important to note that “none of the funds may be used to subsidize operating losses.”
• $348 million for the National Park Service, which goes to the Historic Preservation Fund for repair of damaged historic buildings and historic materials and “necessary expenses related to the consequences of Hurricane Sandy.”
• $600 million for the Environmental Protection Agency to mitigate global warming (which is not occurring) — providing $725,000 for environment programs and management, $2 million for a hazardous substance Superfund and $5 million for the leaking underground storage tank fund, all “for necessary expenses related to the consequences of Hurricane Sandy,” and $600 million to state and tribal assistance grants for “wastewater and drinking water treatment works and facilities impacted by Hurricane Sandy.”
• $17 billion for “community development funds” (can you say ACORN?). This one item represents 28.3 percent of the bill and is akin to giving the National Rifle Association $17 billion with which to lobby lawmakers on behalf of its members. ACORN is a defunct organization. $16 billion in HUD community development block grants “for necessary expenses related to disaster relief, long-term recovery, restoration of infrastructure and housing, and economic revitalization in the most impacted and distressed areas resulting from a major disaster.”
Mr. Andrews incorrectly chooses to conflate budget negotiations with the federal government’s ability to respond to a massive natural disaster that struck our country. Sandy was the second-costliest storm to hit our country, second only to Katrina. It was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, spanning 1100 miles. When such a disaster strikes, this is a time when we are not 50 individual states, we are one country.
Additionally, Mr. Andrews could not be more mistaken when he accuses me of lacking compassion and foresight for future generations. We are so fortunate to live in this truly exceptional nation, one that cares for the health and well being of all of its citizens. Helping others in their time of need is the most important lesson we can teach our children and grandchildren. Helping the east coast injured and homeless families is the morally correct thing to do, the American thing to do, and is indeed an investment in our country’s future.
Chair, Pitkin County Democrats