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First Round Of Sandy Relief Funds Clear Congress

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TWC News: First Round Of Sandy Relief Funds Clear Congress
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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Members of the newly sworn-in House of Representatives and Senate approved a $9 billion measure Friday that will pay out flood insurance claims for Hurricane Sandy victims in the tri-state area.

The measure passed the lower house 354-67 during a morning session and was approved by the Senate a few hours later.

President Barack Obama is expected to sign the legislation.

FEMA says the National Flood Insurance Program would have run out of money next week had Congress not approved the measure.

About 140,000 Hurricane Sandy-related flood insurance claims have been filed, according to FEMA, with many flood victims receiving only partial payments so far.

FEMA says without the increased borrowing, about 115,000 claims would have been in jeopardy.

"It is just another sign of the majority's dysfunction with FEMA being just a day away from being unable to pay flood claims," said Rep. Nydia Velazquez, whose district represents parts of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan.

The vote comes two days after both Democrats and Republicans blasted House Speaker John Boehner for failing to vote for Hurricane Sandy relief before the end of the Congressional session.

Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand say the House's refusal to act earlier has caused unnecessary harm to people recovering from the storm.

"To be a bride left at the alter once is bad enough. To be left at the alter twice would be unconscionable. And so, we need the House to move forward and pass the full $60 billion," Schumer said.

"New York has always stood by every other region in the country when they have undergone natural disasters. And this is a moment in time when we desperately need other states, other senators, other members of the House to stand by New Yorkers. It's a time of grave and precious need," Gillibrand said.

A second vote is scheduled to take place on January 15 for a larger $51 billion request for Hurricane Sandy relief aid.

The request will be voted on in two installments. One, for about $18 billion, is expected to pass with considerable support, because it will also focus on other immediate needs. The other bill, a $33 billion amendment aimed at longer-term mitigation projects, will likely come down to the wire, as spending remains a major concern for many Republicans.

"A great physical tragedy of today should never become an even greater fiscal tragedy for our children tomorrow," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas.

The Senate passed the flood insurance bill Friday afternoon by unanimous consent. Now, some House Republicans are warning the Senate not to try and stuff pork projects into the remaining disaster bills.

"My hope is that we will see on January 15th a negotiated, clean bill," said Rep. Darrell Issa of California.

New York's senators say they are in talks with the House about what will go in the remaining bills, which they hope to get through the Senate and signed by the president before the end of the month.

Despite Friday's vote, Governor Andrew Cuomo is not letting up on his criticism of Congress.

Cuomo had a simple message for federal lawmakers Thursday telling them, "Show me the money."

The governor also blasted lawmakers for politicizing the relief process.

"To inject their politics and chaos into this situation was truly an outstanding failure on their part, and in many ways a violation of the basic oath they took," Cuomo said.

Following the House vote, Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie praised lawmakers for passing the bill, calling it a "necessary and critical first step."

However, both governors echoed statements by Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand that Congress cannot stop with this bill.

"Today's action by the House was a necessary and critical first step towards delivering aid to the people of New Jersey and New York," the statement reads. "While we are pleased with this progress, today was just a down payment and it is now time to go even further and pass the final and more complete, clean disaster aid bill. We are trusting Congress to act accordingly on January 15th and pass the final $51 billion instrumental for long-term rebuilding in order for New Jersey, New York and our people to recover after the severe devastation of Hurricane Sandy."

Meanwhile, the Sandy relief vote came on the first full day for the 113th Congress.

Despite criticism about his job performance, John Boehner was re-elected to a two-year term as House speaker.

He received 220 votes to Nancy Pelosi's 192.

A total of 234 Republicans and 199 Democrats will make up the House, a smaller advantage for the GOP than in the 112th Congress.

In the Senate, Democrats retain a 55-45 edge, including 12 newly-elected members.

There are now 20 female Senators, the highest number ever.

The new group also includes Senator Tim Scott, the first black senator from the south since Reconstruction.

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