Last updated: January 4, 2013 11:29 pm

Congress agrees partial Sandy aid package

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Congress has approved a partial aid package for victims of superstorm Sandy following fierce bipartisan criticism from officials in New York and New Jersey over the slow pace of assistance.

The $9.7bn measure will be used to pay flood insurance claims by homeowners who had paid premiums for coverage. The National Flood Insurance Program, the US government scheme, has been running out of money to pay the claims. The bill will allow the scheme to borrow more money to pay more than 100,000 claims.

The House of Representatives passed the measure by a vote of 354-67, with all the nays cast by Republicans. The Senate passed it on a voice vote. Barack Obama, US president, was expected to sign it into law.

On January 15, the House is expected to pass another $50bn in aid, with the Senate almost certain concur.

The Senate had passed the $60bn aid package requested by New York and New Jersey officials during the previous session of Congress, which ended earlier this week. But the House failed to take action, fuelling a political uproar and requiring the passage of new legislation.

Michael Grimm, a Republican who represents the New York City borough of Staten Island in the House, said on Friday that he feared the delay in aid will lead to many business closures.

“Every day you’re not open you’re losing revenue and your ability to reopen,” Mr Grimm said. The loss of businesses in his area as a result of congressional delay is “untenable”, he added.

Sandy hit the northeastern US more than two months ago, damaging hundreds of thousands of homes, closing businesses and wreaking extensive damage to the coastal areas of New York and New Jersey. Since then, lawmakers from the affected areas have pleaded for federal government aid.

Frustrations reached boiling point this week after the House failed to pass the Senate version of the measure before adjourning. New York and New Jersey Republicans blasted John Boehner, the House speaker, for not bringing the measure to a vote.

“It’s why the American people hate Congress,” said Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey.

Peter King, a Republican member of the House from New York, urged political donors to stop funding Republican lawmakers’ campaigns.

“What they did . . . was put a knife in the back of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans,” he said. “It was an absolute disgrace”

The political fallout forced Mr Boehner and other House Republican leaders to hold a vote this week.

Some influential Republican pressure groups had urged lawmakers to vote against the measure.

On Friday, one Republican member of Congress said affected communities resembled “war zones”.

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