More than $11 billion will go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief aid fund for shelter, restoring power and other storm-interrupted utility services, and meeting other immediate needs arising from Sandy and other disasters. Another $10 billion is devoted to repairing New York and New Jersey transit systems and making them more resistant to future storms.
“The funding in this bill is urgently needed,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. “Hundreds of thousands of families have seen their lives turned upside down.”
Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., said Republicans weren’t seeking “to undermine” help for Sandy victims but instead were trying to make sure that the money was actually being spent on emergency needs.
“We’re simply trying to say we need some standards,” Coats said.
Earlier in January, Congress approved and Obama signed a $9.7 billion bill to replenish the National Flood Insurance Program, which has received well over 100,000 flood insurance claims from businesses, homeowners and renters related to Sandy. Added to the new, $50.5 billion package, the total is roughly in line with the $60.4 billion that Obama requested in December.
Sandy damaged or destroyed 305,000 housing units in New York and more than 265,000 businesses were disrupted there, according to officials. In New Jersey, more than 346,000 households were destroyed or damaged.
The aid package was greased for passage before the last Congress adjourned and the new one came in on Jan. 3. But Speaker John Boehner refused to bring it to the floor after two-thirds of House Republicans voted against a “fiscal cliff” deficit-reduction deal raising taxes on couples making more than $450,000 a year while deferring some $24 billion in spending cuts to have been shared between defense and domestic programs.
The ruckus after the Senate had passed an earlier $60.4 billion Sandy relief package by a nearly 2-to-1 margin on Dec. 28 exposed deep political divisions within Republican ranks. “There’s only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims, the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner,” Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fumed at the time.