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Sandy’s devastation requires Congress to approve aid

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s request for $30 billion in federal disaster aid to help the New York City region recover from Superstorm Sandy should be met with a quick and resounding yes.

The more than $50 billion in damage makes Sandy the second-most-expensive storm in U.S. history, right behind 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.

This epic event swept through several states, most notably New Jersey, but also Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina. But there is a legitimate argument to be made that because the nation’s largest city and its financial center suffered some of the worst damage, it requires particular attention.

Cuomo’s request exceeds the $12 billion in available FEMA disaster aid. Politically, this is not a good time to be asking for federal money. The lame-duck session of Congress will be busy dealing with the fiscal cliff. But a disaster like Sandy is beyond the ability of the states to handle and becomes a federal responsibility.

The White House had no immediate comment on Cuomo’s request, saying only that the administration was still waiting to see the details. Now it is up to Cuomo to make the strongest possible case for the aid, which should not be difficult.

Just a few of the big-ticket items include, according to the New York Times:

• $3.5 billion to repair the region’s bridges, tunnels and subway and commuter rail lines.

• $1.65 billion to rebuild homes and apartment buildings.

• $1 billion to reimburse local governments for the overtime costs of police, fire and other emergency personnel.

• Several billion dollars in grants to assist affected businesses.

The federal government set the precedent in disaster relief following Hurricane Katrina, which caused an estimated $145 billion in damage along the Gulf Coast. The feds provided about $110 billion in relief in that case, according to Cuomo officials.

President Obama toured the area Thursday and vowed to stick with New Yorkers “until the rebuilding is complete.” Obama named Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, former head of New York’s Department of Housing, to be his point person to oversee long-term rebuilding in the region. “We’re reminded that we are bound together and we have to look out for each other,” Obama told New Yorkers.

Cuomo’s financial request will give Obama plenty of opportunities to follow through on that promise.

The governor deserves much credit for his leadership in this crisis. Cuomo, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and other officials managed to get New York City back in business despite the enormous damage. Devastated stretches of Staten Island and Long Island are still suffering, and will take years and billions of dollars in federal aid to restore. More leadership will be needed to make sure that happens.

Cuomo is also looking ahead, and says the region must rebuild smarter, to counter the effects of increasingly violent storms resulting from climate change.

It is the responsibility of the nation, through Congress, to respond.