US Senate approves Superstorm Sandy $50.5bn aid bill

Tuesday 29 January 2013 12.40
The reconstruction aid, originally requested in early December, still faces hurdles in the Democratic-controlled Senate
The reconstruction aid, originally requested in early December, still faces hurdles in the Democratic-controlled Senate

The US Senate has voted in favour of a $50.5 billion aid package for victims of Superstorm Sandy today, three months after the storm devastated New Jersey and New York coastlines.

The vote was postponed last week as Senate leaders wrangled over new rules aimed at limiting procedural roadblocks, known as filibusters.

The reconstruction aid, originally requested in early December, faced hurdles in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The obstacles included a Republican amendment aimed at off-setting the entire cost with across-the-board budget cuts spread over a decade, and a 60-vote threshold needed for final passage.

Many Republicans saw the debate as an opportunity to take a stand against a big spending increase after being forced to swallow tax increases on the wealthy as part of the New Year's deal to avert the "fiscal cliff".

The Club for Growth, an influential conservative group, had urged senators to vote for the Lee amendment.

"With $16.4 trillion in debt, it's the very least Congress can do to start acting in a fiscally responsible manner," the group said in a statement issued on Friday.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the $50.5bn package on 15 January, largely with Democratic votes, after shaving off about $160m and preventing any funds from being diverted to other disaster areas.

House Speaker John Boehner enraged east coast politicians on 1 January by cancelling a previously scheduled vote on Sandy emergency funds.

The storm wiped out many New Jersey and New York shore communities and flooded lower Manhattan transit tunnels on 29 October.

Since then, Congress has approved $9.7bn to shore up the National Flood Insurance programme to allow it to continue paying the Sandy-related claims of homeowners who bought flood insurance.

The aid package in the vote will bring the total Sandy disaster funds to $60.2bn, short of the $82bn initially requested by New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

The legislative delays marked a stark contrast with the congressional response to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated Gulf Coast communities and flooded New Orleans in 2005.

Within ten days of that storm, Congress had approved $62.3bn in aid.

Subsequent appropriations brought the total taxpayer funds to rebuild the region to more than $100bn.