Cruz overstates amount of relief funds that didn’t go for Sandy

Hurricane Harvey’s torrential rains and flooding have revived memories of Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s nay vote on federal relief for victims of superstorm Sandy.

Cruz said he enthusiastically backed aid for Sandy’s victims, but the problem was the particular bill. “It became a $50 billion bill that was filled with unrelated pork,” Cruz said on Aug. 28.

Did two-thirds of the Sandy money have nothing to do with that storm?

No. There was some padding, but the data and the assessment of those who studied the bill say the extras amounted to far less than Cruz stated.

Cruz’s office sent us its breakout of the 2013 Disaster Relief Appropriations Act to support the assertion that “nearly 70 percent” was “used for non-emergency spending.”

Cruz said the bulk of the money had nothing to do with Sandy. That’s considerably stronger than saying the money went for “non-emergency spending.”

Congress responded to Sandy’s 2012 devastation by adding nearly $10 billion to the National Flood Insurance Program. It then passed a relief bill for five times that amount, without the support of Cruz and most other Republicans.

Of the $50.5 billion Congress appropriated, Cruz’s office cited a Congressional Quarterly article that said $17 billion went for “immediate aid and $33.5 billion for near- and long-term assistance and mitigation.”

The list from Cruz highlighted $16 billion to the Housing and Urban Development Department’s Community Development Fund. (The actual figure is $15.2 billion according to a spreadsheet from the Recovery and Accountability Board, the agency created to oversee recession recovery spending.) Cruz’s office said that included “any major disaster declarations from 2011, 2012 and 2013.”

The funds largely went to the states hit by Sandy. According to HUD, $12.8 billion has been granted to New Jersey, New York and New York City. Add in other east coast states where Sandy did damage — Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island — and the total reaches $13 billion.

So you could argue that the bucket leaked, but not nearly on the scale flagged by Cruz’s office.

The other large chunk of funds was $10.9 billion for mass transit reconstruction. That money has been slow to get out the door, with just $3.7 billion granted and a bit under $1 billion spent as of March 2015.

The Government Accountability Office, the auditing arm of Congress, assessed the transit relief program in 2014. It said “transit projects can take years to complete.” The GAO also noted that the funding guidelines allow “transit agencies to improve facilities beyond pre-disaster conditions.”

This supports the criticism that the money would go beyond immediate disaster relief, but as the report noted, large-scale construction projects have long runways.

Together, these two buckets of money account for about $24 billion of the $33 billion that was the basis for Cruz saying most of the money was unrelated to Sandy.

Two people who analyze disaster relief spending said Cruz was off the mark.

“Two-thirds would be a gross overestimate,” said Robert Young, a West Carolina University geologist. “There was clearly extraneous spending, but no way it was two-thirds.”

The advocacy group Taxpayers for Common Sense assembled a body of data on spending related to Sandy. The group’s vice president Steve Ellis said no matter how you look at the numbers, two-thirds of the funds “are definitely Sandy related.

“It really depends on how you think about emergency,” Ellis said. “Two years after Sandy only a fraction of the money had been spent. We would like to see a more deliberative approach to disaster rather than strike while the iron is hot.”

Our ruling

The data and the assessment of experts show that the bulk of the funds went to the places hit hardest by Sandy. There was a leaky bucket, but not at the level Cruz declared.

We rate this claim Mostly False.

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