Schoharie residents: storm relief inequitable

Posted at: 12/09/2012 11:34 PM
Updated at: 12/10/2012 12:45 AM
By: Dan Levy

SCHOHARIE - Senator Charles Schumer on Sunday said he wants to help victims of super storm Sandy by giving across the board tax breaks, but in so doing, New York's senior senator may have touched off a storm of controversy, particularly with residents of the Schoharie Valley.

Senator Schumer (D - New York), and Senator Robert Menendez (D - New Jersey), are proposing comprehensive storm relief legislation, the main thrust of which would allow all disaster repair expenses caused by Sandy to be tax deductible.

The problem is that 15 1/2 months ago, Tropical Storm Irene devastated many parts of the Northeast, and now, residents of Schoharie County, many of whom still haven't been made whole, are asking: what about us?

When Sandy battered the east coast in late October, there were plenty of Upstate New York residents who would easily relate.

"I certainly feel for the people downstate, we all do," said Sarah Goodrich, executive director of the Schoharie Area Long Term relief effort (SALT), who says she was disappointed with what Schumer had to say on Sunday.

"We need a sort of one-two punch to help people recover," Schumer declared at a news conference. "One is aid, but one is tax relief to basically lower the tax burden of those who are hurt by Sandy so they can overcome Sandy's horrible affects more quickly."

"I think there will be a lot of disappointment and there may be some anger," Goodrich suggested.

Few things have happened quickly in Schoharie, where Goodrich says the horrible affects of Irene are still stressing, and depressing, and frustrating residents more than a year after the storm -- and without the suggestion of tax relief that Schumer wants to provide downstate.

"Many people at this point in the recovery have really come up against a wall," Goodrich states. "They've run out of their funds, they've run out of their energy, and we're working hard to have them not run out of hope, because without hope, there's no point in that recovery."

"(A tax break) could have been very helpful here," said John Poorman, chairman of Schoharie Recovery, Inc., who says he's troubled at how disaster victims in this country are treated differently from storm to storm and from year to year.

"If there's a way to make this equitable between the new victims and the older victims, that would be great," Poorman said.

He also hopes it's not too late for Irene victims to be treated the same as Sandy victims. Goodrich agrees, hoping Senator Schumer can still be convinced.

"He is such a powerful force in Washington," Goodrich begins. "It's important that we do speak up and let him understand the situation up here and be reminded that the recovery is still ongoing."

Schumer's legislation would also allow storm victims penalty-free borrowing from their retirement accounts, and enhanced tax breaks for those who took in storm victims.

Meanwhile, State Assemblyman Pete Lopez (R - Schoharie), says he thinks more could be done to provide "consistent and fair treatment" for all storm victims, and he says storm recovery remains his top priority.