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Cuomo says he's 'optimistic' on Sandy aid

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Photo -   New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo arrives at the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, for a scheduled meeting with White House officials. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo arrives at the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, for a scheduled meeting with White House officials. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo emerged Monday from meetings with top Obama administration officials and congressional leaders "optimistic" that Congress will act quickly to provides tens of billions of dollars to help his state recover from Superstorm Sandy, one of the Northeast's most destructive storms.

"People are still reeling from this trauma and New York needs help," Cuomo said after meeting with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii; Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the panel's senior Republican, and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who chairs its subcommittee on homeland security.

"New York has been there for other parts of the country when they needed help," Cuomo said. "We're asking for the same today. So far I'm optimistic."

President Barack Obama is expected to send Congress his request for emergency Sandy recovery aid this week. The initial amount is certain to be less than the $42 billion that Cuomo is seeking for his state alone.

Cuomo began his day at the White House, where he met with Chief of Staff Jack Lew, Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan and other top aides to President Barack Obama. He then went to Capitol Hill for meetings with top members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and leaders of both parties.

Donovan and Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in charge of the storm relief efforts, are scheduled to testify Wednesday before Landrieu's subcommittee.

Landrieu, whose state was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, said she would work hard to win more aid for East Coast states.

"I'm going to step up for New York, New Jersey and the East Coast," Landrieu said. "We know what a successful recovery needs."

Facing tight budget constraints amid the fiscal cliff budget talks, Congress is not expected to approve large amounts of additional spending all at once.

States hit hard by Sandy are pressing White House officials for as much money as possible, as soon as possible. The administration's request could get tied up in the talks aimed at averting the fiscal cliff before the Dec. 31 deadline — a $6 trillion combination of automatic tax increases and spending cuts— beginning in January.

"The closer it gets to December 31, the more worried we are," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who attended the meeting with Cuomo and top appropriators. "We know it's not going to be easy."

New York is asking for about $42 billion, much of it for destroyed homes, transit systems, hospitals and small businesses. That includes about $9 billion to better protect the power, transit and sewage treatment systems from the next big storm, including vulnerable seaside areas by building new jetties to protect harbors and shorelines against storm surges in the future.

The storm in late October was one of the most destructive ever to hit the Northeast, killing more than 120 people, flooding much of lower Manhattan and hammering coastal homes in New Jersey and New York. More than 300,000 homes were seriously damaged from New York City to the eastern tip of Long Island alone, according to officials.

Cuomo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Connecticut Gov. Daniel Malloy are teaming up in a regional effort to land nearly $83 billion in federal aid. Christie is expected to be in Washington on Thursday to press for aid, Cuomo said.

Christie, a Republican, is seeking much of the estimated $37 billion cost for recovery and rebuilding, including $7.4 billion for preventive measures from future storms that he says his state needs. Malloy, a Democrat, says Connecticut's bill is $3.5 billion.

Some fiscal conservatives such as Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who sits on the Appropriations Committee and is the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, has said at least some of the new spending for Sandy relief and rebuilding should be offset by spending cuts in other government programs.

That's the same view taken in the past by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and other fiscal conservatives.

Cuomo said House Speaker John Boehner said he would review Obama's request on an "expedited basis" and that Boehner "wants to get something done this year for New York." Cuomo said they did not discuss the issue of spending offsets.

Lawmakers from states hit by Sandy say they expect the fight for more money to drag on for months and that several emergency spending bills will be needed. State officials worry that Congress's willingness to provide aid will lessen as time wears on.

The government has so far provided about $2 billion in federal funds — about half for direct assistance to individuals — to the two most heavily damaged states and nine others hit by Sandy. There's about $5 billion left in the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund, but under last year's budget agreement President Barack Obama can seek another $5.4 billion without hitting a ceiling on spending.

States other than Connecticut, New York and New Jersey now getting federal aid include West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New Hampshire, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, as well as the District of Columbia.

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