Oink Oink! Pork in Sandy Relief Legislation?

This past week I left MO to travel to MA for a presentation and to spend some time with the parents.  During one of our dinners together, my father and I, in classic Dad/Elysa style, got into a heated political debate for about an hour, and this time it centered around Sandy relief.  According to my father this bill is littered with Pork and other unrelated legislation to advance party politics, my very unsubstantiated counter was that it definitely wasn’t.  So I decided to check out the bill itself to see if he had won this political duel.

When I first went looking for the bill I had some issues–  I tried checking the US Congress site, the Exec site and some other random links off of each to no avail.  Luckily my dad came to the rescue in the end and sent me a copy of the bill (on the Committee of Appropriations website of course, over-site on my part).  But, unwilling to admit to my dad that I couldn’t even find the bill (I mean that really wouldn’t tip the Dad/Elysa duel scale in my favor), I did a little big of digging through other avenues first.

In agreement with my dad’s “pork-littered” argument there was…well most of the news.  When you search “Sandy Relief Bill” you are met with headlines like “Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill Contains Billions in Wasteful Spending” (Ackerman), or “Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill: All Pork- Little Relief”(Kaye), or simply “Sandy Relief Bill Had Pork” (Patten).  You get the picture. Obviously I was unwilling to stop my search here, with so much evidence against my original view (despite the fact that I checked out news sources that are both democratic and republican leaning, as well as independent papers, and the fact that most of these arguments seemed to have sound reasoning and many commonalities.  I’m stubborn, what can I say).

In search of opinions that favored of the bill as a helpful piece of legislation rather than a giant pork barrel I ended up getting most of my information from whitehouse.gov (the link for the Sandy-related pages is in my work cited). Here the Sandy relief is depicted (in photos and actual text alike) as a top priority for the President. Something that he wholeheartedly wants to be involved in.  Here are a few examples: 

,

8138648650_b75d7e783d_bThe President in the Situation room before spending the night approving New York and New Jersey as major disaster areas (which allows them additional government and local support),

So whats the real deal? Is this bill a wonderful attempt to aid in relief or a pork barrel, plain and simple?  After scouring over the 109 pg bill ( found here: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-113hr152rds/pdf/BILLS-113hr152rds.pdf) and checking the funding breakdown (here: http://www.gop.gov/bill/113/1/hr152) and cross-referencing with some of the most common complaints of pork spending for this bill I have decided that while there are some amounts of pork, its not nearly as egregious as some make it sound.

Here are some examples (most topics taken from U-T San Diego‘s article (as this was the most specific and expansive list of pork spending) cited below):

Public transportation:  some claim that funds allocated to public transportation are mainly for future improvements rather than Sandy-specific relief.  This does not seem to be the case.  On page 22 it is stipulated that no more than $2,000,000,000 (of an allocated $5,4000,000,000) can be available after 60 days of the bills enactment.  And on the following page it is provided further that no more than  3/4 of 1% of the allocated funds can be available for “ongoing program management”.

Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Facilities: Some claim this to be an unnecessary  addition as a whole.  When I looked into it there were medical facilities that were closed as a result of Sandy, such as the Manhattan facility that flooded on both the basement and ground floors (United States Government).  Additionally there is a stipulation on page 20 of the bill that the actions taken with these funds must be designated by Congress as for emergency action.

Department of Commerce, specifically the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to apparently provide fisheries in Alaska:  The money set aside in this section (pg 33-34) is for survey of debris,repair/replacing ocean and coastal observation assets damaged by Sandy, assessment of coastal impact of Sandy, improvement of weather forecasting for hurricanes, creation of labs and institutions associated with weather research programs, and money for fisheries (yes fisheries..but wait theres more) “that were declared by the Secretary of Commerce as a direct result of impacts from Hurricane Sandy” (34).  The Administration must submit a spending plan to Congress within 45 days and Congress must approve it as being for emergency pursuits.   In this section there is money going to individuals that were not directly affected by Sandy (labs and institutions specifically); however, greater knowledge is needed to better understand how to mitigate the results of hurricanes like Sandy.

Money going to federal daycare:  This is discussed in pages 15-16.  I do agree that some of this spending can be considered pork as, from my reading, funds are being funneled to Head Start; however, it is stipulated that funds be allocated only to New York and New Jersey residents, which may be an attempt at Sandy relevance.  This section also allocates some funds to states other than these two for the “Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration”, where again there can be argued to have some relevance because one such area this would benefit is crisis counseling and the services are set aside specifically for “dislocated” residents of these two states.

Money for a “water priorities” study: I am not entirely sure what a “water priorities” study is, but the only mention of water in this document is money going to the affected region for treatment of waste and drinking water.  Which, considering Long Beach residents were not able to “conservatively” flush toilets or drink tap water (which even still had to be run for 10-15 minutes before drinking to “flush it out”) starting on Nov 11 (CBS New York), I’d say this is a valid expenditure.

There are also other complaints of tax cuts for to rum makers, funds allocated to track down debris from the 2011 Japan tsunami, and funds for the purchase of vehicles/equipment  for the Justice and Homeland Security Departments. But I found no mention of this in the Bill’s text.

Now, I will admit that I am no policy expert, and that some of the numbers do seem excessive to me (much of the outrage towards this bill was the “belated” January 15th amendment which adds billions in funds for relief.  Some claim that such a large sum of money should not be added so far after Sandy. But, looking at Long Beach, I would say there is still much need for help (LoGiurato).), but when reading through the bill there seem to be very few of the blatant abuses of pork legislation that people are worried about.  Of course, there are still remaining concerns about the application of this bill, including FEMA fraud (Lipton), and what Congress will define as Sandy-related actions, but as far as the text itself I would say it is more concerned with aid than pork.

Work Cited

Ackerman, Justin. “Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill Contains Billions in Wasteful Spending.” Policymic 10 12 2012, n. pag. Web. 1 Feb. 2013.

Kaye, Kemberlee. “Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill: All Pork – Little Relief.” FreedomWorks [Washington DC] 19 12 2012, n. pag. Web. 1 Feb. 2013.

Patten , Debbi. “Sandy Relief Bill Had Pork.” Star Democrat2 9 2013, n. pag. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

United States. White House. Web. <http://search.whitehouse.gov/search?affiliate=wh&query=sandy&submit.x=0&submit.y=0&submit=Search&form_id=usasearch_bo&xgt;.

Lipton, Eric. “Distribution of Billions in Aid to Storm Victims Will Test FEMA.” New York Times 30 10 2012, n. pag. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

LoGiurato, Brett. “The House Has Passed More Than $50 Billion in Sandy Aid, Despite Heavy Republican Opposition.” Business Insider. n. page. Print.

Editorial Staff, . “Pork-laden relief bill par for course.” U-T San Diego 03 01 2013, n. pag. Web. 8 Feb. 2013.

United States Government. Department of Veterans Affairs.VA NY Harbor Healthcare System. 2013. Web.

“Water, Sewers Coming Back In Long Beach; LIRR Bus Service Also Available.” CBS New York 11 11 2012, n. pag. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

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2 comments

  1. I guess this brings up the question, what counts as “pork.” One person’s wasteful spending is another person’s necessary support.

    1. That is absolutely true. Often pork is entirely necessary legislation that was simply passed through a not-entirely related bill. When speaking to people and reading about what they considered to be “tag-ons” or “pork” in this bill, responses most commonly were that pork was anything that the bill granted that was not directly related to Sandy relief (so improving things past the point of simply repairing them or any legislation that had to do with areas other than those directly hit by Sandy).

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monica byrne

writer . playwright . artist . activist . traveler

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