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Government to pay NJ, NY emergency power, transport costs

A largely powerless downtown Manhattan stands under a night sky due to a power blackout caused by Hurricane Sandy in New York October 31, 20
A largely powerless downtown Manhattan stands under a night sky due to a power blackout caused by Hurricane Sandy in New York October 31, 20

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The federal government will cover 100 percent of emergency power and public transportation costs through November 9 for the areas of New York and New Jersey that were hit hard by superstorm Sandy, officials said on Thursday.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said that President Barack Obama directed the agency to provide direct federal support for power restoration and transportation operations for 10 days.

Democratic U.S. senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand in New York said they will push for full federal reimbursements for all repair and recovery costs related to the storm.

"This is a good first step on FEMA's part and an indication that they know how serious the damage from the storm is," Schumer said.

Schumer spokesman Brian Fallon said the 100 percent federal reimbursement through November 9 would cover costs incurred by state and local governments and some nonprofit organizations for activities related to restoring power and transportation, such as removing debris, clearing roads and providing emergency services.

Individuals and for-profit companies would not qualify, Fallon said. He added that under a separate FEMA program, individuals can apply for up to $31,000 in federal payments to cover home repairs, temporary housing rentals and some serious medical needs caused by the disaster.

The storm crippled transportation in the two states, shutting down rail and mass transit for days. As some mass transit resumed in New York on Wednesday and Thursday, the state's Metropolitan Transportation Authority did not collect any fares.

A determination of whether to change the traditional breakdown of 75 percent for federal share and 25 percent of state and local share of overall disaster recovery will not be made until after damage assessments are in, Fugate said.

"There has been no assessments of total damages. We are still very much in response mode," he told reporters. "Cost-share adjustments will be based upon impact ... we're not even at the point of saying what kind of total bill this is going to be."

When there is a need for the federal government to pick up more than 90 percent of disaster recovery costs, Fugate said, Congress has usually taken action, as it did when "hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma in 2005 were directed to be 100 percent federally funded for all of the recovery costs."

(Reporting By Richard Cowan and Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by Vicki Allen and Stacey Joyce)

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