Congress approves money to pay Sandy’s flood victims

Washington – Congress on Friday approved an increase of $9.7 billion to for the National Flood Insurance Program, which was rapidly running out of money to pay claims — many filed because of Super Storm Sandy.

The vote was 354-57 in the House. Two-thirds of the House was required to support the bill to win its approval on an expedited basis. With the help of Connecticut’s entire House delegation, the number of “yes” votes exceeded that.

The Senate approved the flood insurance package bv voice vote Friday afternoon, and the measure will now go to President Barak Obama for his signature. 

The NFIP said this week it will run out of money to pay claims next week. It has paid about 140,000 flood claims and has another 120,000 claims pending.

But the $9.7 billion approved for the program is only a fraction of the $60.4 billion in Sandy aid approved by the Senate last month. The Senate package included $17 billion in Community Development Block Grants that would help New Jersey, New York and Connecticut protect against future storms by burying power lines and building seawalls.

The use of the grant money is flexible, and House conservatives criticized the program, saying there isn’t enough oversight of the money and that much of it is unnecessary.

When the House takes up the rest of the package later this month, a fight is expected over some of that disaster money requested by the White House at the behest of the Govs. Andrew Cuomo, Chris Christie and Dannel Malloy.

It includes billions of dollars for Army Corps of Engineer projects and to replenish FEMA’s emergency fund.

The House’s failure to take up the Senate bill before the 112th Congress ended Thursday prompted a revolt by Republicans from Sandy-hit states against Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. The rebellion resulted in Boehner’s promise to hold the vote on flood insurance money Friday and on the rest of the package Jan. 15.

While that deal placated Republicans from storm-hit states, Democrats said it wasn’t good enough.

“My constituents and all the victims of Hurricane Sandy — many of whom are still living in misery — shouldn’t have to wait any longer to get the help they need to move forward with their lives,” said Rep. Jim Himes, D-5th District.  “As a nation, we have always provided federal assistance in times of disaster, and help for Sandy victims is long overdue. … Is there really a question that this help is necessary?”

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said, “There’s no reason this wasn’t voted upon in 2012.”

“Families … in my district are asking, ‘Why are you making it so difficult for us to rebuild? We don’t need a piecemeal approach,’ ” Lowey said.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said, “Today’s vote is progress in the right direction.”

“It also illustrates again why the House should have acted before the end of the last Congress to pass a comprehensive Sandy aid package to help families, first responders, towns and municipalities that have already waited too long for help to arrive,” Courtney said.

Because there’s a new Congress, the Senate must vote on Sandy relief again.

When Sandy hit in October, FEMA had about $920 million in its flood insurance account, and another $2.9 billion left in borrowing authority from the U.S. Treasury. That means the flood insurance program had to pay out about $3.8 billion in claims.

But it looks like Sandy’s flooding will result in about  $12 billion in flood claims, forcing the national program to ask for more borrowing authority.