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President Obama Signs First Round Of Federal Sandy Aid Into Law

Vote On $51 Billion Aid Package Expected In House Jan. 15
A truck drives down a flooded street after water levels lowered October 30, 2012 in Little Ferry, New Jersey. (credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

A truck drives down a flooded street after water levels lowered October 30, 2012 in Little Ferry, New Jersey. (credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

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Superstorm Sandy

WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork) – President Obama has signed a $9.7 billion flood insurance claims measure into law, just days after the House and Senate voted to approve the first round of federal aid for victims of superstorm Sandy.

The law give the Federal Emergency Management Agency increased borrowing power. The agency said it was poised to run out of money if Congress had not acted.

Flood claim payments would have been delayed for more than 100,000 homeowners and business owners had Congress not acted to supply FEMA with additional funds, the White House said.

A second, larger vote on Sandy aid is scheduled in the House on Jan. 15.

That package will cover the remaining $51 billion President Obama had requested from Congress. Leaders of the newly sworn in Senate have promised a vote the following week, assuming the relief measure passes in the House as anticipated.

House Speaker John Boehner had faced the wrath of lawmakers from New York and New Jersey on both sides of the aisle for last week delaying a vote on the aid request.

The delay meant that the Senate, which had previously approved the funding, was forced to re-vote, since a new session of Congress began on Thursday.

Boehner decided to delay a vote on aid until the new session began so lawmakers could instead focus solely on the impending fiscal cliff, which was narrowly avoided.

Boehner’s decision Tuesday night to cancel a vote on Sandy aid before Congress ended its current session provoked a firestorm of criticism from New York, New Jersey and adjacent states where the money will go.

“There was a betrayal,” Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) said on the House floor Wednesday. “There was an error in judgment that is going to cost, I think, the trust of the American people.”

“This is a disaster on top of a disaster,” said Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.).

“How can we treat an entire region of the country this way,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.). ”It is the most disgraceful action I’ve seen in this House in 20 years I’ve been here.”

More than $2 billion in federal money has been spent so far on relief efforts for 11 states and the District of Columbia struck by the storm. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund still has about $4.3 billion, enough to pay for recovery efforts into early spring, according to officials.

Federal relief funding for Sandy has been slower than any other recent natural disaster.

In 1992 after Hurricane Andrew hit Florida, it took 31 days for approval of a disaster aid package. When hurricanes Gustav and Ike hit in 2008, it took just 17 days. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, relief money was approved after just ten days.

Are you satisfied with how Congress has handled the request for aid so far? Sound off in the comments section below…