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Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg August 30, 2017

Ted Cruz's Mostly False claim that two-thirds of Sandy relief was pork spending

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

MSNBC host Katy Tur challenged Cruz to defend his vote then with his support for relief today.

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 Aug. 28. "Two-thirds of the bill had nothing to do with Sandy. And what I said then and still believe now is it's not right for politicians to exploit a disaster and people who are hurting, for them to pay for their own political wishlist."

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."

Before we dive into a couple of the big items on that list, it’s important to note that 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."

Two big pots of money

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated portions of the Mid-Atlantic coast. Congress responded by adding nearly $10 billion to the National Flood Insurance Program. It then passed a relief bill for five times that amount.

The bigger package passed without the support of Cruz and most other Republicans.

Of the $50.5 billion dollars that 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."

While that might raise concern that the money would go elsewhere, in reality, 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.

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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. The Recovery Board had just $3.7 billion granted and a bit under $1 billion spent as of March 2015. But that doesn’t prove that the money had nothing to do with Sandy.

The Federal Transit Administration told state officials in 2013 that "funds are for specific areas (counties) in 12 states designated as disaster areas for Hurricane Sandy."

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. Furthermore, Federal Transit Administration plans to use nearly half of its Disaster Relief Appropriations Act appropriation for resiliency projects (or projects to protect facilities from future damage)." The GAO 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.

Taken 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 Western 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."

Ellis said the bigger issue wasn’t pork barrel spending, rather that the bill passed outside of the regular budget process.  

"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

Cruz said that two-thirds of Hurricane Sandy relief money had nothing to do with Sandy.

The numbers don’t back that up. Cruz might have been focused on the difference between immediate emergency relief and longer term reconstruction, but his words skipped over that distinction.

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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Mostly False
"Two-thirds of the (Hurricane Sandy relief) bill had nothing to do with Sandy."
in an MSNBC interview
Monday, August 28, 2017

Our Sources

MSNBC, Interview with Sen. Ted Cruz, Aug. 28, 2017

Taxpayers for Common Sense, Analysis of Selected Provisions in Hurricane Sandy Emergency Spending Proposals, Jan. 10, 2013

Taxpayers for Common Sense, Disaster Spending Data Resources, accessed Aug. 30, 2017

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, CDBG-DR Active Disaster Grants, accessed Aug. 30, 2017

U.S. Government Accountability Office, Emergency transportation relief, May 24, 2014

U.S. Federal Transit Administration, Guidance for Transit Agencies Impacted by Hurricane Sandy, Feb. 8, 2013

U.S. Congress, Disaster relief appropriations act - 2013, Jan. 29, 2013

Washington Post, Ted Cruz’s claim that two-thirds of the Hurricane Sandy bill ‘had nothing to do with Sandy’, Aug. 29, 2017

Office of Sen. Ted Cruz, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz Statement on the Disaster Relief Act of 2013, Jan. 28, 2013

Congressional Research Service, FY2013 Supplemental Funding for Disaster Relief, Feb. 19, 2013

Email interview, Robert Young, director, Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, Western Carolina University, Aug. 29, 2017

Email interview, Steve Ellis, vice president, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Aug. 29, 2017

Email interview, Phil Novak, spokesman, Office of Sen. Ted Cruz, Aug. 29, 2017

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Ted Cruz's Mostly False claim that two-thirds of Sandy relief was pork spending

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