U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo will tour disaster areas in New Jersey and the northeast with colleagues today to find out more about Hurricane Sandy relief and show his support for those efforts.
Palazzo voted Friday against a bill that provided $9.7 billion for the National Flood Insurance Program to pay claims, a move that baffled some of his South Mississippi constituents who have benefitted from federal disaster relief after hurricanes, most notably Katrina in 2005.
He told the Sun Herald on Monday that he is simply trying to raise awareness about the national debt and the need to change the way the federal government responds to disasters.
"We are obligated, especially after they receive this aid, to bring attention to the need for disaster-relief reform, and insurance reform and how we're going to build back resilient communities and make sure that we mitigate for future storms," he said. "That has been my initial focus from Day One, is taking an opportunity to address this.
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"If we address this in six months or 12 months, nobody's going to listen. We're going to go back to doing our own thing and nobody's going to remember how much the storm cost, how much suffering people had because of, again, the delayed federal response."
Palazzo was one of 67 House Republicans who opposed the bill to raise the NFIP debt limit because of Sandy. The Senate passed the bill on a voice vote.
Many people were left with the impression the bill included pork projects for Sandy relief, but it included no other spending.
Without the bill, NFIP was about to run out of money to pay flood insurance claims. NFIP's borrowing authority also was increased after Hurricane Katrina, which drove the program $18 billion into debt. The federal program issues flood insurance policies and collects premiums for coverage in exchange for a promise to pay policyholders for flood losses the policies cover. Insurance policies are binding contracts.
The House never voted on other Sandy relief measures. A vote on the larger relief package, where critics say the pork is included, never made it to the floor. Instead, the House will consider a Sandy relief package next week.
The Senate's $60.4 billion Sandy relief bill, passed Dec. 28, died when House Speaker John Boehner adjourned without action after the fiscal cliff vote and the 112th session of Congress ended.
"The bigger picture is we also have to recognize that we have a financial disaster that is looming in this country that I believe, personally, in my heart, is going to be greater than any natural disaster that has ever hit us," he said. "We can't let opportunities go by where we don't address these serious issues."