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Congress OK’s $9.7b in Sandy insurance aid

WASHINGTON — Under intense pressure from New York and New Jersey, Congress adopted legislation Friday that would provide $9.7 billion to cover insurance claims filed by people whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.

The measure is the first, and least controversial, portion of a much larger aid package sought by the affected states to help homeowners and local governments recover costs associated with the storm. The House has pledged to take up the balance of the aid package on Jan. 15.

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The House passed the insurance measure 354-67; it then cleared the Senate by unanimous consent. The measure now goes to President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law.

In the House, all of the votes against the aid came from Republicans, who have objected that no cuts in other programs had been identified to pay for the measure despite the nation’s long-term deficit problem.

The 67 Republicans who voted against the measure included 17 freshman lawmakers, suggesting that the new class will provide support to the sizable group of anti-spending conservatives already in the House.

Speaker John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, brought the bill to the House floor after he drew criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike for adjourning the previous Congress earlier this week without taking up a $60.4 billion aid bill that the Senate had passed to finance recovery efforts in the hurricane-battered states. Among those most critical of Boehner were several leading Republicans, including Representative Peter T. King of Long Island, N.Y., a senior member of Congress, and Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who is a possible presidential contender in 2016.

The bill adopted Friday would give the National Flood Insurance Program the authority to borrow $9.7 billion to fill claims stemming from damage caused by Hurricane Sandy and other disasters.

a First Step

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which administers the flood insurance program, recently notified Congress that it would run out of money within the next week to cover claims filed by individuals.

‘‘The administration is pleased that Congress has taken action to ensure that FEMA continues to have the funds to cover flood insurance claims, including over 100,000 claims from Hurricane Sandy the agency has already received,’’ Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman, said in a prepared statement. ‘‘We continue to urge Congress to take up and pass the full supplemental request submitted last year to ensure affected communities have the support they need for longer-term recovery.’’

The action by Congress did not fully mollify lawmakers from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and other states struck by the storm. Some officials continued to criticize the chamber’s leadership for not acting more quickly on the larger aid package, saying it provided the necessary financing to help the region rebuild.

‘‘I am optimistic and worried,’’ said Senator Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat. ‘‘Optimistic because there is pressure on the House to produce. Worried because I know how difficult it is to get things through the Congress.’’

Christie and Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, a Democrat, issued a similarly cautious statement.

‘‘Today’s action by the House was a necessary and critical first step toward delivering aid to the people of New Jersey and New York,’’ the governors said. ‘‘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.’’

The overall measure would provide money to help homeowners and small-business owners rebuild; to repair bridges, tunnels, and transportation systems; to reimburse local governments for overtime costs of police, fire, and other emergency services; and to replenish shorelines. It also would finance an assortment of longer-term projects that would help the regions prepare for future storms.

Some Republicans have been critical of the size of the proposed aid package, and have suggested that it includes unnecessary spending on items that are not directly related to the hurricane, such as $150 million for fisheries in Alaska and $2 million for museum roofs in Washington. But Representative Frank A. LoBiondo, a New Jersey Republican, said Friday that the measure the House votes on this month would ‘‘strip out the extraneous spending directed to states not affected by the storm.’’

‘‘Today’s vote is a key step in getting critical federal assistance to the residents, businesses, and communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy,’’ LoBiondo said in a prepared statement.

‘‘I hope my colleagues recognize politics has no place when dealing with a disaster, and that the overwhelming bipartisan support demonstrated today is present as the remaining federal aid is considered,” he said.

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