WASHINGTON – Three months after superstorm Sandy ravaged coastal areas in much of the Northeast, Congress on Monday sent a $50.5 billion emergency relief measure for storm victims to President Obama for his signature.
“I commend Congress for giving families and businesses the help they deserve, and I will sign this bill into law as soon as it hits my desk,” Obama said in a statement late Monday.
Despite opposition from conservatives concerned about adding billions of dollars more to the nation’s debt, the Senate cleared the long-delayed bill, 62-36, after House Republicans had stripped it earlier this month of spending unrelated to disasters. All 36 votes against the bill were from Republican senators.
Lawmakers say the money is urgently needed to start rebuilding homes, businesses, public transportation facilities and other infrastructure damaged by the Oct. 29 storm, one of the worst to strike the Northeast. Sandy is blamed for more than 130 deaths in the U.S. and tens of billions of dollars in property damage, particularly in New York and New Jersey.
The biggest chunk of money is $16 billion for Housing and Urban Development community development block grants. Of that, about $12.1 billion will be shared among Sandy victims as well as those from other federally declared disasters in 2011 and 2012. The remaining $3.9 billion is solely for Sandy-related projects.
More than $11 billion will go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief aid fund for shelter, restoring power and other 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 the money was actually going to be 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.