US Congress approves aid for Storm Sandy victims

US Congress approves aid for Storm Sandy victims

US Congress approves aid for Storm Sandy victims

Updated 5 January 2013, 21:49 AEDT

The US Congress has finally approved federal aid for the victims of superstorm Sandy, which battered parts of the east coast last October.

The United States Congress has finally approved federal aid for the victims of superstorm Sandy, which battered parts of the east coast last October.

The House voted 354-67 to provide the Federal Emergency Management Agency with $US9.7 billion to pay the flood insurance claims of thousands of victims.

The legislation, just a wedge of a much larger package sought by the White House, then breezed through the Senate by voice vote, and goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

"We should not have parades down the street because this bill has passed," said Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who has spearheaded efforts to speed up congressional approval for aid.

"The major work of helping the victims of Sandy is still ahead of us. The bad news is that we had to even go through this dog and pony show in the first place."

The Senate had approved a comprehensive $60.4 billion Sandy aid package last week, but Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who was stung by fractious negotiations over the deal to avert the fiscal cliff crisis, refused to bring it to the floor.

The delay enraged Democrats and Republicans alike in the New York and New Jersey delegations.

Friday's bill boosts borrowing authority for the depleted National Flood Insurance Program, which is meant to cover the roughly 120,000 Sandy-related claims filed to date.

FEMA has said the program would have run dry next week without additional funds.

Even as Speaker Boehner has since vowed to bring the remaining $51 billion of the package to a vote on January 15, bitter debate is likely to continue, and Schumer expressed worry about the package's future.

"To be a bride and left at the altar once is bad enough. To be left twice would be unconscionable," he said.

Republican congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey told the House that the bill was "the first step of what we need to do to rebuild lives."

"It's been 70 days and many have been living in misery and heartache," he said.

Supestorm Sandy killed 120 people and destroyed tens of thousands of homes and businesses in New York, New Jersey and neighboring northeastern states in October.

AFP