FEMA OK’s local disaster aid as Obama storms NJ

President Barack Obama, center, talks to reporters on the Temple Street Bridge over the Passaic River as he visits areas damaged by Hurricane Irene, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2011, in Paterson, N.J. Gov. Chris Christie stands left of Obama. (AP Photo/John O'Boyle, Pool)

President Barack Obama comforted victims of Hurricane Irene in storm-pounded New Jersey Sunday, delivering promises of relief while Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released news that it has approved requests for disaster assistance to all counties.

Accompanied by Gov. Chris Christie, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation, Obama unleashed a storm on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s proposal to delay assistance to hurricane victims until relief payments could be offset by budget cuts so as not to inflate the deficit.

“I know that there’s been some talk about whether there’s going to be a slowdown in getting funding out here, emergency relief,” Obama said, standing on the Temple Street Bridge in Paterson, above the swollen Passaic River. “As president of the United States, I want to make it very clear that we are going to meet our federal obligations — because we’re one country, and when one part of the country gets affected, whether it’s a tornado in Joplin, Missouri, or a hurricane that affects the Eastern Seaboard, then we come together as one country and we make sure that everybody gets the help that they need.”

Christie also blasted Cantor — a heartless Tea Party darling with whom he shares hard-core opposition to taxing the rich — for threatening to make federal disaster relief a budget debate issue.

“New Jersey’s done a great job recovering from the storm,” said Christie, who also reported that only 450 people remain in shelters, from a high of 87,000 less than a week ago. “I don’t want to hear that offsetting budget cuts have to come first before New Jersey citizens are taken care of.”

Now that individual and public assistance was approved by FEMA Union County residents and small businesses in all municipalities are now eligible to apply for different types of government assistance, including temporary housing, repair, replacement or other needs such as Disaster Unemployment Assistance, and Small Business Administration disaster loans.

Public assistance eligibility allows eligible local governments, and certain nonprofit organizations to apply for federal funding on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by Hurricane Irene.

State residents who suffered damage from Hurricane Irene should apply for disaster assistance with the FEMA – even if they have insurance or are unsure if they are eligible.

Residents may register by phone at 800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 800-462-7585 for those with hearing or speech impairments.

Specialists are standing by at the toll-free numbers seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time, until further notice. Help in other languages is available.

Online registration is available at www.DisasterAssistance.gov and it is possible to apply through a web-enabled mobile device or smartphone by visiting m.fema.gov and following the link to “apply online for federal assistance.”

Thousands of cheering residents greeted the president as his motorcade rode along Main Street in Paterson, where Obama witnessed the still closed Main Street bridge over the Passaic River.

“Often seen as emotionally removed from the country’s hardships, Obama waded into a pocket of misery Sunday to try to buck up northern New Jersey neighborhoods stricken by the hurricane,” said a report published in the Los Angeles Times. “He wore khakis and a checked shirt, sleeves rolled up, and listened to stories about floodwaters that turned streets into streams and basements into swimming pools.”

Without mentioning Cantor by name, Obama dismissed the Republican approach and declared that disaster aid isn’t another version of Washington pork.

“And the last thing that the residents here of Paterson or the residents of Vermont or the residents of upstate New York need is Washington politics getting in the way of us making sure that we are doing what we can to help communities that have been badly affected,” Obama continued.

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