President Barack Obama signed into law Sunday a $9.7 billion Superstorm Sandy aid package following delays over fiscal cliff bickering, warnings of dwindling federal funds and swirling controversy over millions of dollars for unrelated projects.
The measure passed the House on Friday, 354-67. The Senate approved the measure unanimously and without debate. The new law includes more than $9 billion to help the government pay flood insurance claims.
Congress faced strong pressure to boost the debt-ridden flood insurance program, which is the primary option for that type of coverage for U.S. homeowners and businesses. It has been under severe financial pressure for years from payouts related to big storms like Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
It was the first legislative action of the new Congress, which picked up the Sandy package after the previous session on Tuesday shelved a vote on a much larger assistance plan for storm victims, infuriating New York and New Jersey politicians.
Lawmakers from both houses will weigh in on $51 billion in additional Sandy aid on January 15. But that larger portion will likely face much closer scrutiny in a Congress anticipating more acrimony over spending and debt in coming months.
House leaders initially balked at immediate consideration of a big spending bill just after concluding the excruciating negotiations around the fiscal cliff. House Speaker John Boehner preferred to wait a few days at least before holding a vote on a Sandy bill.
The original storm legislation also included what some Republicans saw as congressional "pork," or money for unrelated pet projects. Budget hawks viewed the extra funding as wasteful in an era of record deficits.