Assistant Secretary of Commerce Matt Erskine promises he will take what he saw in the Rockaways back to Washington, D.C. to ensure south Queens continue to get relief as it still reels from Sandy.
On Thursday, January 30 Erskine, along with elected officials, toured the still-devastated areas of the peninsula — including the Madelaine Chocolate Factory, one of the largest small businesses in Queens with 425 employees, which was heavily damaged by the storm. Erskine and the politicians applauded the staff at Madelaine for its efforts to get back to work.
“The president made clear that this was to be an all hands on deck effort,” Erskine said. “And that he was committed to making sure that we at the federal government are going to be with you every step of the way, and we’re going to look for new ways to work more effectively with our state and local partners to get this job done and get it done correctly.”
The visit came just days after Congress approved the second part of a $60 billion Sandy aid package almost three months after the storm swept through the area. Erskine, speaking before local leaders at Vetro in Howard Beach, which was also damaged in the storm, promised President Barack Obama was committed that everyone, from every agency, work together like never before to ensure the Rockaways get all the relief that’s needed.
Congressmember Gregory Meeks, who toured the area with Erskine, said he too had pressured the president for continued relief.
“Right before we went in for the luncheon on Inauguration Day,” Meeks said. “I mentioned ‘we’re still hurting in the Rockaways.’ And he says ‘I know, and I won’t forget it.’”
About 40 percent of the small businesses in the Rockaways will probably never reopen, said Jack Friedman, executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce. The goal of chamber members, along with local leaders, is to help as many businesses as possible get back on their feet.
“We see that same thing happening all over the Rockaway Peninsula, all over Howard Beach,” Friedman said. “Small business people trying to get through the loss of their homes, the loss of their possessions, the loss of their businesses, looking for help and support from government, private industry, from not-for-profits, just so they can go back to do what they do, which is employ a lot of our residents, make this borough work.”
Newly-sworn in Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries, who represents Howard Beach, Lindenwood and Ozone Park, said it was a top priority to get as many businesses back up and running.
“I’m particularly pleased that [Erskine]’s here today because essentially this is day one of the rebuilding and recovery process from the standpoint that the legislation was just signed into law,” Jeffries said. “And that should open up a level of resources for the city of New York, and the state of New York that will make its way to people who are in distress.”