September 13, 2011

As prepared for delivery:

A little more than two weeks ago, Tropical Storm Irene came barreling through New Hampshire, dumping as much as eight inches of rain in parts of our state. The damage to property and infrastructure, especially in the northern part of the state, was significant. The surging waters and high winds destroyed roads and bridges, damaged thousands of homes, left nearly 200,000 without power, devastated businesses, and ruined crops.

While the devastation was terrible, I commend the dedicated first responders and emergency personnel who kept our residents safe and well-informed throughout the storm. I am also grateful for the tireless work of the road crews, utility workers and volunteers who began helping families and communities rebuild as soon as the storm passed. Your hard work and community spirit are deeply appreciated.

For many of the towns hit hardest by Irene, this is the third major flooding event of the year. It’s the seventh in the last two years. These are devastating floods. In Plymouth, the new ice hockey rink and much of the rest of downtown were under water.

Many of the homeowners in the community in Conway that suffered some of the worst damage are elderly or disabled residents living on fixed incomes.

Others affected by the disaster are families that were already struggling to cope with difficult economic circumstances. New Hampshire emergency response officials touring Conway today told my office about the plight of one young family of three. The father was laid off from his job just three days before the storm hit.  With the mother caring for their three-year old at home, they have lost their entire income. Now their home is severely damaged, and they have no money to rebuild. Without FEMA assistance this family could wind up homeless.

Hundreds in the West Lebanon area may be out of work for months. Peg Howard, who owns a boutique gift store in the area, told the Upper Valley News, that she fears damage from Irene will put her out of business. As a small business owner, she has no parent corporation to help her recover. Assistance from FEMA and other federal programs may be her only option as she tries to rebuild her business.

Peg and the hundreds of others in New Hampshire and thousands across the country who have been devastated are taxpayers.  This is their government.  They pay for it.  Their tax dollars fund this government, including FEMA.  They have the right to expect help will be there when they need it.  It’s an outrage that some Members of Congress would deny them in their time of need.  And why?  For partisan politics.  Plain and simple. 

Even in the best of circumstances the costs of the storm would be a significant burden for New Hampshire to shoulder alone. Thankfully President Obama quickly granted Governor Lynch’s request for a major disaster declaration. A number of federal agencies, including FEMA, are now on the ground providing essential assistance as we begin to restore our state’s homes, businesses, roads and utilities.

But New Hampshire is hardly alone in the need for assistance after Hurricane Irene. And other parts of the country are still rebuilding from disasters earlier this year, such as the devastating tornado in Joplin Missouri. Soon FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, which was already running low prior to the storm, will no longer have the resources needed to continue meeting recovery needs.  In the last two weeks, FEMA has spent 300 million dollars providing relief to states hit by Hurricane Irene. Less than 500 million remains – which may not be enough to see us through the end of month. New Hampshire, and the other states still recovering from disasters, would be on their own. We cannot let that happen.

We must act quickly to provide FEMA with the resources it needs to help our citizens and towns recover. In northern New England, we have a limited window to rebuild before the onset of winter brings construction to a halt. What’s more, in New Hampshire, fall is a critical season for our tourism industry, as thousands of visitors come to take in the beautiful fall foliage.

We need to immediately rebuild the bridges that Irene destroyed, such as this one in Hart’s Location. Any delay in FEMA assistance over the next few weeks could have a serious impact on recovery efforts and the hundreds of businesses and their employees. 

Natural disasters should be beyond politics and beyond partisanship. The people hurting all across this country are not Democrats or Republicans, they are citizens and they are taxpayers.  Getting them the help that they need demands bipartisan cooperation. In the past we’ve always been able to come together and get people the assistance they need and this time should be no different.

I urge all of us to work together to address this emergency and provide FEMA the resources it needs to carry out its mission. This has an immediate, real world impact on many Americans and we should not delay. Thank you.

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