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Congress OK's Superstorm Sandy flood aid

By Jennifer McDermott

Publication: theday.com

Published January 04. 2013 11:00AM   Updated January 04. 2013 11:35PM

Congress approved on Friday nearly $10 billion for flood insurance claims related to Superstorm Sandy so that payments on the more than 100,000 claims would not be late.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency had warned Congress that the National Flood Insurance Program would run out of money next week.

The Senate already had approved the funding within a $60.4 billion emergency relief package it passed in December. But House Speaker John Boehner did not call a vote before the new Congress convened Thursday, sparking outrage among politicians of both parties throughout the Northeast.

The House is now considering the aid in two parts. The $9.7 billion for the insurance claims was approved Friday morning by a vote of 354-67 and passed the Senate by unanimous consent in the afternoon.

The House will consider the remaining $51 billion in aid Jan. 15 and the Senate will have to vote on that as well, since the House wrote separate legislation instead of adopting the package passed by the Senate.

After the morning vote, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said he was speechless.

"This is just such an incredibly cumbersome and unnecessary way to do this," said Courtney, who wanted the House to pass the entire emergency relief package days ago.

All that the delay has accomplished, Courtney said, is "anger and low regard for the process of the House."

Republicans in Congress have criticized the bill for containing expenditures unrelated to the storm, such as $150 million to rebuild fisheries in Alaska and along the Gulf Coast.

Victims of the October storm have filed nearly 140,000 flood insurance claims and FEMA has made more than $1.7 billion in payments, according to the agency. Of the current claims, 115,000 are related to Sandy and 5,000 are from individuals in states across the nation.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the House vote on the insurance program was a "partial, inexcusably incomplete step towards fulfilling our nation's moral obligations to the families, businesses and communities impacted by Superstorm Sandy."

"Regrettably, today's action by the House was a session late and many dollars short of fulfilling our promise to these victims," Blumenthal said in a statement.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were the hardest hit by the megastorm.

Connecticut has requested $3.8 billion in federal assistance. Of that, $3.2 billion would be spent on strengthening infrastructure — including microgrids, power lines and sewage treatment plants — so it can withstand future storms. The rest would pay for damages.

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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