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Congress passes $9.7B in Sandy aid; delay decried [Asbury Park Press, N.J.]

By Ken Serrano, Asbury Park Press, N.J.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Jan. 05--Joseph Mancini breathed a sigh of relief following the passage of a $9.7 billion flood insurance bill in Congress Friday, saying that 3,000 to 3,500 property owners in Long Beach Township would have had payments to restore their homes delayed, had it not passed.

"I feel really good now that we'll be able to rebuild by summer," Mancini, the mayor of Long Beach Township, said.

But Stephen Acropolis, the mayor of Brick, was not celebrating.

The flood insurance money was separated from a larger bill for Sandy relief, and that $51 billion plan will now be delayed for at least three weeks.

"My biggest concern is the emotional or psychological part of the delay," Acropolis said. "We didn't need that. To do what they did the way they did it was a slap in the face."

But he highlighted a more concrete result of the impact of Congress' failure to act on the broader aid package. The package is expected to include $17 billion in Community Development Block Grants administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Acropolis said not even the eligibility requirements are available and won't be until the legislative holdup clears.

Both Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called the passage of the flood insurance legislation "just a down payment" in a joint statement and urged the House of Representatives to take swift action on the remaining $51 billion package on Jan. 15, when it is scheduled to consider the remaining funds in two parts.

Reps. Frank J. Pallone Jr., D-N.J., and Rush Holt, D-N.J., said the earliest the Senate could vote on the plan would be in about three weeks. But debate on the Senate floor and amendments could stretch it out longer.

"This is a three-week delay on top of a seven-week delay," Holt said.

"Rebuilding is delayed and it's already been delayed," Pallone said. "That's not going to help homeowners, businesses and the tourism industry."

Pallone called Friday's House action "too little and too late."

The House vote was 354-67, with all the "no" votes coming from Republicans. Most are from Midwestern and Southern states. The Senate later approved the money by voice vote, sending the bill to President Barack Obama for signing.

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Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said before the Senate vote: "It's the easiest part. The hard stuff is still ahead of us."

The flood insurance money was urgently needed because the National Flood Insurance Program was set to run out of money by Monday unless Congress approved additional borrowing authority, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.

Northeast lawmakers were incensed when House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio delayed a vote on the measure. After enduring withering criticism for the decision, Boehner announced Friday's vote and the promise of more action on Jan. 15.

Democrats again decried the delay on Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada recalled that lawmakers rallied "within days" to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"We are now past two months," he said of the congressional response to Sandy.

Rep. Eliot Engel of New York said the delays in acting on aid for Sandy victims made him "the angriest I have been since I was a member of Congress."

Democratic Rep. Rob Andrews of New Jersey called it "inexcusable and unjust" and urged House leaders to pre-negotiate a bill that could pass both chambers quickly.

"The House taking up the bill on Jan. 15 is lovely. It is also utterly meaningless if the other body does not act," he said.

Republican Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland said he voted against the bill approved Friday because it would raise the National Flood Insurance Program's borrowing limit without a plan to pay for it -- and without reforms to safeguard the program for the future.

"Instead of writing another blank check, we should have used this bill as an opportunity to strengthen the program to protect people from future floods that we know will come," he said.

Republican Rep. Scott Garrett of New Jersey, who voted for the bill, said Sandy victims have been getting their flood insurance claims paid.

"We are just here today to make sure that those payments continue going forward," he said.

FEMA said about 55,800 flood insurance claims had been received from New York through Thursday, and more than $956 million had been paid in settlements.

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"What's not in this bill is money to help all the communities that laid out hundreds of millions and billions of dollars for the cleanup," Schumer said.

In New Jersey, more than 346,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in the storm. A total 72,397 claims have been filed by homeowners covered by the National Flood Insurance Program, said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.

"Thus far, only 18 percent have received funds pursuant to their claims," he said. "Over 80 percent of my constituents who have filed claims are waiting in limbo and in an intolerable situation that is making a bad situation worse."

Ken Serrano: 732-643-4029; kserrano@njpressmedia.com

___

(c)2013 Asbury Park Press (Neptune, N.J.)

Visit the Asbury Park Press (Neptune, N.J.) at www.app.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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