The U.S. Senate passed a $50.5 billion relief bill Monday to aid repair efforts in New York and other states affected by Hurricane Sandy, and President Barack Obama pledged that day to sign the bill as soon as it reached his desk. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
By a 62-36 vote, the $50.5 billion disaster aid bill for states affected by Hurricane Sandy was approved in the Senate on Monday.
Three months after Hurricane Sandy ravaged New York and the general northeast, significant aid is finally heading to the region.
"Passage of this bill will mean money for homeowners who lost everything and need to rebuild, small businesses whose doors are still closed but who must reopen and protections of our coastlines and vital infrastructures," said Sen. Charles Schumer.
Even with the end in sight, New York and New Jersey lawmakers did not hide their frustration with a process bogged down by politics.
"Ninety-one days, 91 days in which people have not been able to get their lives back on track," Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey said.
Republican concerns with what they considered pork projects in the bill led to delays in the House of Representatives and a slightly more modest package.
"The bill could have been better if they left in place what the Senate had written," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
Just last week, the vote was delayed as senators squabbled over chamber rules.
Even though the Senate passed a similar measure just before the new year, Republicans still tried to amend the package, calling for cuts to discretionary funds to pay for the bill.
"We've got a trillion-dollar budget deficit — $1.1 trillion to be precise — and we're just adding another $60 billion right on top of that," said Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania.
Once President Barack Obama signs the disaster bill, the next task will be getting the aid into the right hands.
Schumer said from discussions he has had with the administration, it is likely money for homeowners and small businesses will be dispersed quickly.
"The fact that governments, railroads and others know that the money is there will allow the rebuilding to occur so much more quickly," Schumer said.
"This is the beginning of seeing light at the end of a very dark tunnel," Gillibrand said.
In a joint statement Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy thanked the U.S. senators, joint statement released Monday night, saying in part, "Despite the difficult path in getting to this moment, the Senate membership clearly recognized early on the urgency and necessity of approving the full aid package and its importance in rebuilding our battered infrastructure and getting our millions of affected residents back on their feet as quickly as possible. To all Americans, we are grateful for their willingness to come to our aid as we take on the monumental task of rebuilding and we pledge to do the same should our fellow citizens find themselves facing unexpected and harsh devastation."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg also released a statement saying in part, "[T]he federal government will finally provide New York City and our neighbors with the assistance that's rightfully extended to Americans whose lives have been upended by crises and natural disasters."