Three months after superstorm Sandy devastated coastal areas in much of the United States (US) Northeast, the Senate moved Monday towards passing a $50.5 billion emergency package of relief and recovery aid after House Republicans stripped it of spending unrelated to disasters.
Despite opposition from conservatives concerned about adding billions of dollars more to the nation's debt, Northeast lawmakers were optimistic about having the 60 votes needed to win Senate approval and send the long-delayed package to President Barack Obama, who has said he would sign it. The House passed the bill two weeks ago.
Lawmakers say the money is urgently needed to start rebuilding homes, businesses, public transportation facilities and other infrastructure damaged by the October 29 storm, one of the worst ever to strike the Northeast. Sandy is blamed for more than 130 deaths in the US and tens of billions of dollars in property damages, particularly in New York and New Jersey.
"There's no excuse for delay," said New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez. "We need to get assistance to victims of Sandy as soon as possible.
Housing gets lion share
The biggest chunk of money is $16 billion for Housing and Urban Development Department community development block grants. Of that, about $12 billion will be shared among Sandy victims as well as those from other federally declared disasters in 2011-2013. The remaining $3.9 billion is solely for Sandy-related projects.
More than $11 billion will go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief aid fund for shelter, restoring power and other storm-interrupted utility services and meeting other immediate needs arising from Sandy and other disasters. Another $10 billion is devoted to repairing New York and New Jersey transit systems and making them more resistant to future storms.