UPDATE, Friday, 4:20 p.m.
The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved $9.7 billion to expedite payments of federal flood insurance claims filed by victims of Hurricane Sandy.
The vote follows scathing criticism from Northeastern congressional Republicans and Democrats after Republican leadership in the House failed earlier this week to bring forward a vote on a $60.4 billion U.S. Senate-approved Hurricane Sandy relief bill.
A vote on the larger bill is expected to occur on January 14 or January 15, according to Oliver Longwell, U.S. Representative Tim Bishop’s communications director.
The $9.7 billion temporarily increases the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) borrowing authority to carry out the National Flood Insurance Program, according to a press release issued by Mr. Bishop’s office. It will ensure the government is able to pay claims for 115,000 home and business owners who were flooded out by the storm.
“House leadership seems to have realized that further delay is unacceptable in the face of the suffering caused by Sandy,” said Mr. Bishop in a statement. “I will continue to fight on a bipartisan basis for the support we need not only to recover, but to protect our communities from future disasters.”
Democratic New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo and Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie issued a joint statement on the vote.
“Today’s action by the House was a necessary and critical first step towards delivering aid to the people of New York and New Jersey,” the statement read. “While we are pleased with this progress, today was just a down payment and it is now time to go even further and pass the final and more complete, clean disaster aid bill. We are trusting Congress to act accordingly on January 15 and pass the final $51 billion instrumental for long-term rebuilding in order for New Jersey, New York and our people to recover after the severe devastation of Hurricane Sandy.”
Northeastern Congressional Democrats and Republicans blasted Republican leadership in the House of Representatives on Wednesday for failing to bring forward a vote on a multi-billion dollar relief package that would help rebuild the lives of victims devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
Among the group of angry lawmakers was Democratic U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, who in a speech on the House floor on Wednesday, called the inaction “an outrageous decision.” He contrasted Congress’s response to the Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans in 2005, when Congress doled out $100 billion to Louisiana and the Gulf Coast states. The first $62 billion of that aid packaged arrived within the first two weeks after the tragedy.
“It’s unconscionable that this chamber would walk away from a region desperate for assistance in its greatest hour of need,” Mr. Bishop said, according to a transcript of the speech. “We do not accept this shockingly callous indifference to the human suffering in our districts that our constituents and tens of thousands of their fellow citizens continue to endure.”
Democratic New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo and Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie issued a joint statement on Twitter calling the inaction “inexcusable.”
The Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate approved a $60 billion aid package with bipartisan support last Friday. House Republicans were believed to be working on a short-term version of the bill that would approve about half of the amount, but Republican leadership in the House didn’t bring the vote to the floor, Oliver Longwell, Mr. Bishop’s communications director said on Wednesday.
About $5 billion of the aid in the U.S. Senate bill would have gone to the Army Corps of Engineers for things like permanent improvements to the shoreline, dune reconstruction, dredging, and strengthening areas that were weakened by the storm, Mr. Longwell said.
In Mr. Bishop’s district, that includes the heavily-hit area of Mastic Beach, where as many as 5,000 people who live in the working class community sustained irreparable damages.
Also, the money could be used to help harden shorelines for future storms in areas like Montauk. The aid would be used to reimburse local governments like East Hampton and Southampton Town, who have spent millions on repairs.
“This decision could not be more damaging to the urgency of the efforts now being undertaken by our states in rebuilding our communities, our lives, and to prevent future losses,” Mr. Bishop said. “We will not accept this decision to turn a blind eye to our neighbors who are rebuilding and to our states acting in good faith as our partners in repairing and reinforcing our infrastructure.”