WASHINGTON (AP) - The House has overwhelmingly approved $9.7 billion to pay flood insurance claims for the many home and business owners flooded out by Superstorm Sandy. The vote came more than two months after the storm hit and days after Northeast Republicans erupted over House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to delay an earlier vote.
The House voted 354-67 in favor of the bill, which at press time was expected to be sent to and passed by the Senate later in the day. All of the no votes were cast by Republicans.
The bill gives more borrowing authority to the National Flood Insurance Program to pay about 115,000 pending claims.
Northeast lawmakers say the money is urgently needed for victims of one of the worst storms ever to strike the region, ravaging the coast from North Carolina to Maine, with the most severe flooding occurring in Atlantic City, N.J., New York City and Long Island and along the Connecticut coastline. Boehner set Friday’s vote after sparking controversy with a decision to delay House action on a broader Sandy aid package.
"People are waiting to be paid," said Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., whose district includes Atlantic City and many other coastal communities hard hit by the storm. "They’re sleeping in rented rooms on cots somewhere and they’re not happy. They want to get their lives back on track and it’s cold outside. They see no prospect of relief."
About 140,000 Sandy-related flood insurance claims have been filed, FEMA officials said, and most have yet to be closed out. Many flood victims have only received partial payments on their claims.
Philip Rock has received $8,000 in flood insurance payments so far but said he is awaiting a statement on the final amount, which he expects to be much more. A house he owns in Toms River, N.J., had a $220,000 flood insurance policy. The house, which he rents out, was destroyed, and he needs to know the final payout before he can demolish it.
The house is a "total loss," Rock said. "We don’t want to demolish the house and have them say, `We have to go around and take more pictures.’"
New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were the states hardest hit by the storm in terms of damage from high winds, flooding and storm surges. The storm damaged or destroyed more than 72,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey. In New York, 305,000 housing units were damaged or destroyed and more than 265,000 businesses were affected.
Speaking of the legislation pending Friday, Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., whose district includes Staten Island, said, "This funding will give the city and state the much-needed resources to rebuild our damaged infrastructure and provide further aid to individuals and small businesses struggling to pick up the pieces of their lives."
Sandy was the most costly natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and was blamed for at least 120 deaths. Northeast lawmakers have complained that it took just 10 days for Congress to approve about $50 billion in aid for Katrina but that it hasn’t provided aid for Sandy relief in more than two months.
"States and local communities need to know the money will be there before they can give a green light to start rebuilding," said LoBiondo.
More than $2 billion in federal money has been spent so far on relief efforts for 11 states and the District of Columbia struck by the storm. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New Hampshire, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia are receiving FEMA aid.