More than two months after Superstorm Sandy struck the Northeast, the House of Representatives today approved $9.7 billion for FEMA flood insurance programs to be distributed to businesses and residents inundated by the storm.
But the money is not being doled out yet. The Senate must now act to approve the same piece of legislation even though the upper chamber passed a $60.4 billion bill last year. That bill, which matched the White House's emergency supplemental request, expired after the House refused to consider the legislation before the 112 th session of Congress ended this week.
"We're disappointed that the package that passed in the Senate in a bipartisan way was not taken up by the majority, the Republican leadership earlier in the previous Congress that just ended," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference just before the vote. "As one who has experienced natural disasters in her district, it's really important that the confidence that people have in a public response to their personal plight be upheld, that confidence be upheld."
The House vote passed today 354 to 67, with all the opposition coming from Republicans. The bill grants the National Flood Insurance Program additional borrowing authority to process 115,000 pending insurance claims.
After the House voted Jan. 1 on the "fiscal cliff" deal, House Speaker John Boehner decided not to vote on any relief during the 112 th Congress. Republicans and Democrats from the region revolted until Boehner held a private meeting with angry Republican members where he promised to make Sandy relief a priority in the 113 th Congress.
"Why did that have to wait?" Pelosi wondered. "That was a mistake."
The relief today will be followed by another vote for additional relief for the region once the House reconvenes the week of Jan. 14. After the vote today, lawmakers from the area quickly began to shift their attention to that money.
"Today's overwhelming vote to place the national flood insurance program on sound financial footing to pay claims of those who suffered devastating losses from Superstorm Sandy is a good first step," Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., wrote in a statement after the vote. "On January 15 th, we must build on this success by passing the remainder of the robust assistance package that is needed for New York, New Jersey, and other states affected by Sandy."
Rep. Jon Runyan, R-N.J., echoed the sentiment. "I am pleased that the House of Representatives has finally taken this important first step to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy," he said.
"With today's bipartisan vote, I am hopeful that the second part of the emergency supplemental funding bill will easily pass on January 15 th."
After today, the House is expected to recess until Jan. 14.