A group of Superstorm Sandy victims loaded into a bus in Island Park early Tuesday morning as they prepared to descend on Capitol Hill where they will try to convince a divided Congress to approve a full relief package two months after Sandy ravaged the area, crippling infrastructure and leaving many to fend for themselves.
Going along for the ride to Washington, D.C. was 12-year-old Island Park resident John Byrne who stood at a podium in his hometown and passed along a stern message to members of Congress: stop the “political shenanigans,” he said to applause.
That rallying cry seemed to galvanize the dozens of storm weary residents who boarded the bus just after 6 a.m. with the hopes of coming back to Long Island with two “yes” votes in their back pockets.
“We should be getting the money, we should’ve gotten it already—it’s time to stop,” said 38-year-old Roy Gunther.
Storm victims have grown frustrated with Congress’ inability to approve a full relief package despite emotional testimony from local lawmakers. Those making the trek to Washington D.C. hope personal testimony will help convince lawmakers to approve two aid packages that are expected to go in front of the House Tuesday.
A $18 billion bill is expected to address emergency needs and another $33 billion bill—the most controversial—would help allocate funds and resources to assist in recovery efforts and also includes long-term projects focused on preventive measures for future storms.
So far, Congress has only approved a $9 billion bill for the national flood insurance program.
“I feel like the only one’s helping each other are us,” said Melissa Van Wickler of East Rockaway, before boarding the bus. “I’m only one person and I’ve been volunteering so much time all up and down from East Rockaway, Oceanside, Island Park.”
She added: “We need more people to make a difference.”
Historically, the federal government is quick to approve funds for relief efforts. It only took Congress two weeks to approve $62.3 billion in federal emergency appropriations after Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on New Orleans.
Also making the trip to the Nation’s Capitol are Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and is Suffolk County counterpart Steve Bellone.
“We bring our voices to members of Congress today,” Mangano blasted into a microphone.
“When Americans are hurting and suffering our country has always been there to support them…until now,” added Bellone. “We need this bill passed now.”
In December, the Senate passed a $62 billion recovery bill with bipartisan support but the legislation was never brought to the floor of the House, leading Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) to blast his fellow Republicans and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Last week, King said on his Facebook page that “I think we’re going to have the votes” to pass the Sandy aid package.
Despite the delay in aid, some attending the rally said a federal relief package is better late then never.
“We can still save homes, still save business, we can still save lives if we effectively apply this aid,” said Walk A Mile in Our Shoes co-founder Peter Corless, who organized the trip.