US flood program to run dry without congressional action: Fema

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The United States (US) flood insurance program will run out of money to pay claims for Hurricane Sandy and other disasters in coming days unless Congress lets it borrow more funds, the national emergency agency said on Thursday.

The warning from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) came a day ahead of a vote by the House of Representatives on a US$9 billion (S$11 billion) payment on storm-related support for the National Flood Insurance Program.

House Speaker John Boehner reversed course and scheduled Friday's vote after fellow Republicans from states hit hard by the Oct 29 storm slammed him for failing to bring the payment up for a vote earlier this week.

Femahas told Congress that unless its borrowing ceiling was raised, "funds available to pay claims will be exhausted sometime around the week of Jan 7, 2013", the agency said in a one-sentence statement.

The Fema program is essentially the only US flood insurer for residences. It has a US$20.8 billion ceiling for borrowing authority.

Fema estimated Sandy-related flood losses of US$6 billion to US$12 billion in November, far beyond its cash and US$3 billion in untapped borrowing authority.

The House will hold a second vote on Jan 15 on the US$51 billion remainder of the US$60 billion Sandy disaster aid package approved by the Senate last week.

Putting more money into the program would come months after President Barack Obama signed a law aimed at improving its finances. Congress bailed out the program after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and it is US$18 billion in debt.

Sandy, the second-costliest storm in US history, devastated the north-eastern US, with New York and New Jersey the hardest-hit states.