Somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 billion–give or take a few hundred thousand dollars–was the amount the House approved in aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy Tuesday evening. Whatever the final amount, it is far short of the $82 billion requested by New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the three states most severely damaged by the storm.
The rancorous debate concluded with a vote of 241-180 and included 49 Republicans whose states were hit hardest by Sandy. However, the majority of Republicans, 179, voted against it.
Last week, nearly $10 billion was approved in insurance payments for the victims whose homes were damaged or destroyed. This second package was passed in two separate packages, one at $33.5 billion and the other at $17 billion, before they were finally combined.
While the bill did not completely satisfy Sen. Chuck Schumer, it was, he said, “close enough,” and he urged his colleagues to pass it immediately, since many victims are still waiting for relief some 78 days after the storm blew through.
Even so, the passage of the bill was not without the horse-trading and the appeasement of Republican conservatives. As expected, there were a number of codicils and amendments attached to the agreement, several of which will cut spending from projects not related to storm relief, it has been reported.
The Senate will not vote on the bill until after the president’s inauguration next week.
Specifically, the bill includes $16 billion in Community Development Block Grant funds to be used in rebuilding, nearly $11 billion for public transportation projects and $5.4 billion for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects. Also, $11.5 billion is earmarked for FEMA’s disaster relief fund.
Among the several amendments to the bill is one intended to require FEMA to identify recipients of all relief grants and that would prohibit the government from using aid to acquire more land.
Getting the bill through the House is clearly a major victory for the Obama administration, though it had requested $60 billion in its recovery plan.
During a recent appearance on MSNBC, Rep. Charles Rangel said of the bill’s passage: “As for having this as a victory, if it’s a victory for anything, it’s a victory for our country. People can go to sleep at night knowing that God forbid if they have a catastrophe in their country, they may not be able to depend on the local people to come forward or the states, but they can depend on their Congress to be there as historically we have always been. This is the first time we have had any type of controversy in getting it done, but late, delayed, yes, but was it done? You bet your life.”