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, with plans to vote on a larger relief package sometime next week.
Friday’s vote followed scathing criticism from northeastern congressional Republicans and Democrats after Republican leadership in the House failed earlier in the 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 around January 14 or January 15, according to Oliver Longwell, U.S. Representative Tim Bishop’s communications director.
A chorus of angry lawmakers sounded off on the Republican leadership’s inaction on the bill, which was brought to a screeching halt when Republican leadership opted not to bring it to the floor, according to Mr. Longwell.
The Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate approved a $60.4 billion aid package with bipartisan support on December 28. 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, Mr. Longwell said.
In a speech on the House floor last week, Mr. Bishop called the inaction “an outrageous decision” by the Republican leadership. He contrasted Congress’s response to 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 storm.
“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.”
Other political leaders also publicly condemned House Republicans, including Democratic New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo and Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The two issued a joint statement calling the inaction “inexcusable.” When the House approved a portion of the bill, the governors issued another statement saying while they were pleased with the vote, the $9.7 billion was just “a down payment.”
“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,” they stated.
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.
About $5 billion of the aid in the $60.4 billion 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, which have spent millions on repairs.