Biden declares NJ flooding a national disaster, will visit victims in Manville
MANVILLE — President Joe Biden will visit this Somerset County borough on Tuesday after declaring the tornado and flood damage from South to North Jersey a major disaster.
The declaration on Sunday will allow federal assistance to flow to victims in Bergen, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Passaic and Somerset counties.
Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday said he was "grateful" for Biden's "swift response."
What does disaster declaration mean?
Assistance from the declaration can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs as well as low-cost loans for uninsured property losses.
Storm and wind damage from the remnants of Hurricane Ida killed 50 people in six states, including 27 in New Jersey. Four people remain missing in New Jersey after Wednesday's storm and the subsequent flooding.
Federal funding will also include aid to local governments and nonprofit organizations for emergency work on repairing or replacing damaged facilities as well as statewide mitigation efforts.
“We had rain in many communities in two or three hours that were equivalent to what they normally get in a month or two,” Murphy told CBS's “Face The Nation" on Sunday. “This, sadly, we think is part of what we’re going to be facing, more frequency and more intensity."
What's in Biden's plan?
In Washington, the latest flood damage provide a new impetus for infrastructure reform. The U.S. Senate last month passed a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill while the House passed a $3.5 trillion plan backed by the president. The bills have stalled over partisan wrangling.
Biden made a pitch Friday for the bipartisan bill, saying it “is going to change things on our streets across the country." He cited the bill's “historic investment" in roads, rail and bridges, as well as clean energy, clean water and universal broadband.
“It’s about resilience," Biden said. “Make our roads and highways safer. Make us more resilient to the kinds of devastating impacts from extreme weather we’re seeing in so many parts of the country."
The plan includes $110 billion to build and repair roads and bridges and $66 billion to upgrade railroads.
It also includes about $60 billion to upgrade the electric grid and build thousands of miles of transmission lines to expand use of renewable energy and nearly $47 billion to adapt and rebuild roads, ports and bridges to help withstand damage from stronger storms as well as wildfires and drought.
Ultimately, repair and replacement of roads, bridges and other infrastructure damaged by natural disasters are likely to be funded by Congress as emergency relief money. But the bipartisan bill will be valuable in providing major investments in “future-proofing” infrastructure against climate change and extreme weather, according to Jeff Davis, a senior fellow at the Eno Center for Transportation, a Washington think tank.
The bill would be the first to devote money for “climate resilience,” including $17 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers to address backlogs in federal flood control projects.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would receive $492 million to map inland and coastal flooding, including “next-gen” modeling and forecasts. Another $492 million would go toward improving the resilience of coastal communities to flooding by restoring natural ecosystems.
'What climate change looks like' in NJ
Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, said emergency spending, and even the bipartisan infrastructure bill, is not sufficient to address the threat of climate change.
“We have not taken the bold measures we need to protect our families and our way of life and our communities that we cherish," he said.
Potosnak, whose central New Jersey neighborhood was flooded by Ida, said storms are increasing in intensity and frequency, with at least seven “100-year storms” in the past few decades.
“I hope this storm is a reminder to all our elected officials: This is what climate change looks like,'' Potosnak said. “Congress needs to act to match the challenge we face.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.