Many home and business owners flooded out by Superstorm Sandy could get insurance payouts soon through congressional action expected today on a $9.7 billion bill to replenish the National Flood Insurance Program.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs the program, warned that it will run out of money next week if Congress doesn’t give it additional borrowing authority to pay out claims. Congress created the program in 1968 because few private insurers cover flood damage.
Northeast lawmakers say the money is needed urgently for storm victims awaiting claim checks from the late October storm that was one of the worst to strike the Northeast, ravaging the coast from North Carolina to Maine, with the worst flooding occurring in Atlantic City, N.J., New York City and Long Island and along the Connecticut coastline.
“People are waiting to be paid,” said Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., whose district includes Atlantic City and many other coastal communities hard hit by the storm. “They’re sleeping in rented rooms on cots somewhere, and they’re not happy. They want to get their lives back on track, and it’s cold outside. They see no prospect of relief.”
House Speaker John Boehner promised a House vote today after his decision earlier this week to delay an action on a broader Sandy relief package provoked outrage from Northeast Republicans, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who said he’d lost trust in GOP leaders in Congress after being promised a vote earlier this week.
If the House, as expected, approves the flood-insurance proposal, the Senate plans to follow with a likely uncontested vote later today, according to a Senate Democratic leadership aide.
About 140,000 Sandy-related flood-insurance claims have been filed, FEMA officials said, and most have yet to be closed out. Many flood victims have received only partial payments on their claims.
The flood-insurance measure is the first phase of a proposed Sandy aid package. Under Boehner’s new schedule, the House will vote Jan. 15 on an additional $51 billion in Sandy recovery money. Senate action on that measure is expected the following week. Fiscally pressured local governments are awaiting that money.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in Ohio in the wake of Sandy and ordered federal aid to help in recovery efforts in areas affected by the storm.
The federal funds freed by Obama’s order will be available on a cost-sharing basis for state and local governments, and certain private nonprofit organizations in Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland.
Federal funding also is available for hazard-mitigation measures statewide.