Congress completed a $60.2 billion aid package to help rebuild communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy three months after the storm struck the U.S. Northeast.
The Senate cleared the legislation 62-36 yesterday. It will provide $50.5 billion for victims’ needs and rebuilding of roads, bridges and mass-transit systems. The bill goes to President Barack Obama for his signature. In addition, Congress passed a $9.7 billion increase in the national flood insurance fund’s borrowing authority on Jan. 4.
The storm hit Oct. 29 with hurricane-force winds and flooding that killed more than 125 people in 10 states. It ravaged shore communities from New Jersey’s Atlantic City to Bridgeport, Connecticut.
The governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut offered their “genuine thanks and gratitude” in a joint statement after the vote.
“To all Americans, we are grateful for their willingness to come to our aid as we take on the monumental task of rebuilding,” said Democrats Andrew Cuomo of New York and Dan Malloy of Connecticut, along with Republican Chris Christie of New Jersey.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg also thanked lawmakers for supporting the measure.
“New Yorkers are still working to rebuild,” Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, said in a statement. “This aid will allow us to better help our residents and businesses.”
Nine Republicans voted for the measure. No Democrats voted against it.
Delays in enacting the aid plan had angered lawmakers from the three states. After the Senate passed a plan on Dec. 28, Northeast Republicans led by Christie denounced a Jan. 1 decision by House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, to put off a vote that day. That required the new Congress that took office Jan. 3 to start anew on the legislation.
Boehner relented after meeting with angry lawmakers from New Jersey and New York. Christie had called Boehner’s decision to postpone the Jan. 1 vote “disappointing and disgusting.”
New York Republican Representative Peter King suggested on Fox TV that residents of the region should withhold political contributions from House Republicans. He and other lawmakers pointed out that Congress passed $51.8 billion in relief within 10 days after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans in 2005.
The House and Senate voted Jan. 4 for the $9.7 billion increase in the flood-insurance fund’s borrowing authority, allowing it to continue paying 120,000 Northeast claims.
The House passed the rest of the plan Jan. 15 on a 241-180 vote. It includes $17 billion to meet the immediate needs of Sandy victims and $33.5 billion for long-term reconstruction.
“Despite overwhelming damage from wind and water, snow and -- in some neighborhoods -- even fire, New Yorkers are ready to move forward,” New York Democrat Charles Schumer said yesterday, before the vote. “Not one day has passed since Sandy made landfall that I haven’t heard from my constituents wondering when Washington will remember them.”
The aid plan includes $3.9 billion to repair publicly owned hospitals, local roads and facilities operated by gas and electric utilities. It would provide $235 million to rebuild the flood-damaged Veterans’ Administration hospital in lower Manhattan and other VA medical facilities in the region.
The money for long-term projects includes almost $4 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to clear navigation channels, repair damaged beaches and prevent shore erosion in future storms.
“We have a habit here of throwing money at things under the emergency category,” said Senator Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican who urged closer scrutiny of disaster assistance packages.
The Senate defeated an amendment that would have offset the plan’s cost with an across-the-board 0.49 percent reduction in federal discretionary spending this year and by a similar amount during the next eight years.
Heritage Action for America, a group in Washington that advocates for smaller government, urged senators to oppose the aid measure. It said too much money would go to “superfluous programs” unrelated to Hurricane Sandy relief, such as funds to upgrade National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration airplanes.
Boehner decided to put off a vote on the aid plan Jan. 1 after the House passed a tax increase on Americans with annual income of more than $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for married couples. The plan was opposed by most Republicans.
The aid bill is H.R. 152.