US House passes Sandy insurance bill

2013-01-04 20:05

Washington - The US House of Representatives on Friday approved $9.7bn in initial federal funds for victims of Superstorm Sandy, with New York and New Jersey lawmakers still seething over delays in voting on the rest of a $60bn aid package.

The 354 - 67 vote will keep the National Flood Insurance Programme solvent and able to continue paying claims of thousands of homeowners who suffered damage in coastal New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

The measure still must receive approval from the US Senate, where a senior Democratic aide said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was hoping to approve it by unanimous consent.

US House Speaker John Boehner drew scathing criticism earlier this week from fellow Republicans when he cancelled a House vote on the full $60.4bn aid package passed by the Senate.

The frustration continued on both sides of the aisle on Friday, as lawmakers said the flood insurance infusion would do little to help the bulk of those suffering more than two months after the devastating 29 October storm.

Borrowing ceiling

"It took only 10 days after Katrina for President Bush to sign $60bn in Katrina aid," said New Jersey Democratic representative Bill Pascrell, referring to the 2005 hurricane that devastated the Gulf Coast. "How dare you come to this floor and make people think everything is okay."

The flood insurance programme will run out of money in the coming days to pay claims unless Congress lets it borrow more funds, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) said on Thursday.

Fema has told Congress that unless its borrowing ceiling was raised, "funds available to pay claims will be exhausted sometime around the week of 7 January 2013", the agency said in a one-sentence statement.

Fema estimated Sandy-related flood losses of $6bn to $12bn in November, far beyond its cash and $3bn in untapped borrowing authority.

After complaints from Republicans ranging from influential Republican Representative Peter King of New York, to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a possible presidential contender for 2016, Boehner scheduled Friday's vote and a second vote on 15 January for about $51bn in remaining disaster funds.

Putting more money into the programme would come months after US President Barack Obama signed a law aimed at improving its finances. Congress bailed out the programme after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and it is $18bn in debt.