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WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) – President Barack Obama said he’ll sign a $50.5 billion emergency relief measure for Superstorm Sandy victims as soon as it lands on his desk.
Three months after Sandy ravaged coastal areas in much of the Northeast, Obama chided lawmakers for taking their time to approve the funding even as he commended them for providing the long-awaited aid.
“So while I had hoped Congress would provide this aid sooner, I applaud the lawmakers from both parties who helped shepherd this important package though,” Obama said in a statement late Monday.
Despite opposition from conservatives concerned about adding billions of dollars to the nation’s debt, the Senate cleared the bill, 62-36, after House Republicans had stripped it earlier this month of spending unrelated to disasters.
“This is a huge relief,” said Sen. Charles Schumer. “We’ve been fighting for this aid for three months — nine times as long as it took to get funds for Hurricane Katrina.”
In Breezy Point, storm victim Michael Greaney said the federal aid is long overdue.
“It’s about time, it’s really about time,” he said.
The measure is aimed primarily at helping residents and businesses as well as state and local governments rebuild from the storm.
The biggest chunk of money is $16 billion for Housing and Urban Development Department community block grants. Of that, about $12.1 billion will be shared among Sandy victims as well as those from other federally declared disasters in 2011-13. 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 Sandy and other disasters. Another $10 billion is devoted to repairing New York and New Jersey transit systems.
John Weber, owner of Island Park Laundromat, said he desperately needs the money to reopen his business.
“It’s extremely important. It could be the life or death decision to this community,” Weber said. “We don’t need loans, we need grants.”
Many storm victims are still battling with FEMA and insurance companies. Angry homeowners held a meeting Monday night, demanding answers.
“I still don’t have a final tally from FEMA how much money I’m going to be getting,” said Howard Berkowitz of Merrick, Long Island. “There is absolutely zero accountability.”
Earlier Monday, FEMA released new maps doubling the number of homes and businesses in flood zones in or near New York City. The preliminary plan adds 35,000 new structures, which could drive up insurance rates.
Officials say it’s an extra layer of protection, but some homeowners see it as another bill as they try to rebuild.
As with past natural disasters, the Sandy aid bill is not offset with spending cuts, meaning the aid adds to the deficit. The lone exception is an offset provision requiring that $3.4 billion for Army Corps of Engineers projects to protect against future storms be covered by an equal amount of unspecified spending cuts in other programs before next October.
The Senate on Monday rejected, 35-62, an attempt by conservatives to amend the final package with an offset provision to cut federal programs across the board by one-half of 1 percent through 2021.
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