The U.S. House of Representatives finally passed a Hurricane Sandy aid package worth $50.7 billion on Tuesday evening, 11 weeks after the storm devastated the New York and New Jersey region, killing dozens, leaving thousands homeless and destroying billions of dollars worth of property.
The long-awaited bill was passed after House Republicans came under intense pressure from politicians on both sides of the aisle -- notably New York City Michael Bloomberg and Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- to secure aid for communities devastated by Sandy.
The aid package passed the House by a margin of 241 to 180, with 49 Republicans and 192 Democrats voting for the vital bill, which will now move on to the Senate, which is expected to pass it after previously approving a similar measure, the New York Times reported Tuesday evening. President Barack Obama is expected to sign it into law as soon as it makes it to his desk.
The $50.7 billion package comes on top of the nearly $10 billion in aid that Congress passed last week, and will address a wide range of needs that arose in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, from assistance for residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed to monetary support for business owners.
It will also provide badly needed funding for infrastructure projects to repair and reinforce shorelines, subway and rail systems, bridges, tunnels and more, as well as reimbursements for local governments that were heavily affected by the costs of the emergency response.
The aid package passed Tuesday by the House does not meet the $82 billion amount proposed by the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but the New York Times reports that leaders from throughout the region voiced their support for the sizable measure's passage.
Rep. Peter T. King, a Republican from Long Island, N.Y., who was vocal in criticizing his own party's leaders who resisted the package, said the bill took longer than it should have, but that it is a case of better late than never.
“It is unfortunate that we had to fight so hard to be treated the same as every other state has been treated,” he told the Times.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he would push hard for the upper chamber to approve the House bill, though it was not as sweeping as the one the Senate passed late last year:
“It is certainly close enough,” he said, according to the Times.
Schumer and fellow New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez, both D-N.J., issued a a joint statement praising the bill's passage by the House, according to Talking Points Memo:
"It's great news for families, communities and small businesses in our region that the House – after weeks of delay - finally passed an emergency relief bill for Superstorm Sandy," the senators wrote. "Our region extends a helping hand any time another community suffers from a major disaster, and we're pleased that the House voted to provide this emergency relief for New Jersey and New York. As we rebuild, we are committed to making smart investments to ensure that our transportation networks, beach communities, businesses and local neighborhoods can rebuild stronger so that they are better prepared for future storms."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, finally scheduled Tuesday's vote after failing to do so before the conclusion of the last congressional term, a decision that brought great criticism of him and led to rumors that he would step down from his role as speaker.
The criticism of Congress's failure to pass the Sandy bill was aggravated by the fact that the federal government provided aid to the Gulf Coast, shattered by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, within a week of the storm's landfall.
New York, New Jersey and Connecticut legislators and leaders were livid that their region, which is a major source of fundraising dollars for both political parties, was unable to get the same treatment, and a group of regional politicians joined with top CEOs in signing a letter stating that failing to provide a sizable aid package would be grave for the nation's economic health.