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Congress on Friday approved $9.7 billion to pay flood insurance claims for home and business owners devastated by Sandy, more than two months after the storm struck the tri-state, and not fast enough for some victims still struggling.
The Senate approved the measure unanimously Friday after a 354-67 vote in the House.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency had warned that the National Flood Insurance Program would run out of money next week if Congress didn't provide additional borrowing authority to pay out claims. Congress created the FEMA-run program in 1968 because few private insurers cover flood damage.
About 140,000 Sandy-related flood insurance claims have been filed, FEMA officials said, and there are about 115,000 pending claims. Many flood victims have only received partial payments on their claims.
Some storm victims -- many of whom are still lugging waterlogged debris from homes or shoveling sand from lawns and walkways after the late-October storm -- weren't impressed Friday by the action in Washington.
Barbara Kirchoff, of Keansburg, N.J., said that her parents' home was devastated by the storm, and that politicians in Washington don't seem to care.
"My parents have nothing," she said. "They need this money. A good portion of my town is a ghost town. They need help, now."
Nigel Jawad, who works at the Amazing Deli in Ocean Breeze on Staten Island, said most customers complain about a lack of financial assistance.
"Everybody keeps saying, 'Where is the money?' That's all I hear from people," he said. "People have no confidence in the government anymore."
The flood insurance measure is the first phase of a proposed Sandy aid package. Under GOP Speaker John Boehner's new schedule, the House will vote Jan. 15 on an additional $51 billion in recovery money. Senate action on that measure is expected the following week.
The storm was one of the worst ever to strike the Northeast, ravaging the coast from North Carolina to Maine, with the most severe 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."
Sandy was the most costly natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and was blamed for at least 120 deaths. Northeast lawmakers have complained that it took just 10 days for Congress to approve about $50 billion in aid for Katrina but that it hasn't provided aid for Sandy relief in more than two months.
The storm damaged or destroyed more than 72,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey. In New York, 305,000 housing units were damaged or destroyed and more than 265,000 businesses were affected.