Obama signs $11.9 billion aid bill for Sandy victims

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President Barack Obama signed a bill Sunday approving US$9.7 billion (S$11.9 billion) in emergency disaster aid for victims of superstorm Sandy, after a delay sparked outrage among East Coast Republicans against their own party leadership.

Mr Obama signed the measure into law shortly after arriving back at the White House following his family vacation in Hawaii.

The new law provides the Federal Emergency Management Agency with funds to pay the flood insurance claims of thousands of victims of the killer late October storm that devastated coastal communities in New York, New Jersey and neighboring northeastern states.

It also boosts borrowing authority for the depleted National Flood Insurance Program, which is meant to cover the roughly 120,000 Sandy-related claims filed to date.

Fema has said the programme would have run dry next week without additional funds.

But it is just a small wedge of the comprehensive US$60.4 billion package sought by the White House for victims of the storm, which killed 120 people and destroyed tens of thousands of homes and businesses.

The Senate approved the larger bill on Dec 28, but Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who was stung by fractious negotiations over the deal to avert the "fiscal cliff" crisis, refused to bring it to the floor.

Mr Obama joined New Jersey's outspoken Republican governor, Chris Christie, in leading the charge against Mr Boehner's delay, which Mr Christie described as "absolutely disgraceful." Mr Boehner scrambled to tamp down fury, quickly announcing a two-part vote.

The remaining US$51 billion of the package is now set to come to a vote on Jan 15.

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