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Congress Passes $50.5 Billion Superstorm Sandy Aid Bill

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Congress is sending a $50.5 billion emergency relief measure for Superstorm Sandy victims to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The Senate voted on the measure for the states hit by Superstorm Sandy early Monday evening. It passed by a vote of 62-36.

The House approved the bill earlier this month.

The vote in the Senate came 91 days after Sandy hit. The relief bill was often held hostage by partisan bickering.

The $50.5 billion package will provide funds for people all homeowners, small businesses, mass transit, and infrastructure.

In a joint statement from Govs. Chris Christie, Andrew Cuomo, and Dannel Malloy, the trio expressed "genuine thanks and gratitude" to the Senate for the vote.

LINK: See How Each Senator Voted On The Sandy Bill

"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," the statement read.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement: "The 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."

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the money was long overdue and that the bill would provide more than $1 billion for projects to shield New York's coast in the future.

"We've been fighting for this aid for three months – nine times as long as it took to get funds for Hurricane Katrina," Schumer said.

Schumer earlier explained much of the South Shore was vulnerable to another storm and work would begin quickly once the bill passes.

Projects would fortify roads, rebuild beaches and raise houses.

At least $16 billion will flow to state and local governments through grants from the Housing and Urban Development Department.

Schumer and former U.S. Sen. Al D'Amato held a rally in Island Park Monday to encourage the passage of the bill.

"New Yorkers have spent billions of dollars in disaster aid to help other areas. We don't want the rules changing now that we've had a major disaster," Sen. Schumer said.

"We still have one-third of the homes where people aren't living here," D'Amato added.

As CBS 2's Dick Brennan reported, three months after Superstorm Sandy, residents of fire and flood-ravaged Breezy Point, Queens, were relieved at the confirmation that federal aid would flow in at long last.

Michael Greaney and his mother, Rosemary, toughed out the storm and the fire, which destroyed 111 homes and burned nearly right up to their doorstep as Sandy struck on Oct. 29. They said federal aid is long overdue.

"It's about time," Michael Greaney said. "It's really about time."

"I'm sorry, as my son said, it didn't happen sooner," Rosemary Greaney added. "But I'm grateful."

John Weber, owner of Island Park Laundromat, said he desperately needs the money to reopen his business.

"It's extremely important. It could be the life or death decision to this community," Weber said. "We don't need loans, we need grants."

But while Congress passed the aid package, people all over the Tri-State Area were still suffering from problems with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and insurance companies three months after Sandy.

"Everyone who has any degree of authority is going like this, pointing fingers at each other, blaming each other," said Howard Berkowitz of Merrick, Long Island.

Angry homeowners attended a meeting in Merrick Monday night to try to get answers from FEMA.

"I still don't have a final tally from FEMA how much money I'm going to be getting," Berkowitz said at the meeting. "There is absolutely zero accountability."

In the meantime, lawmakers said they will hold federal authorities accountable, to see that all the new aid money goes where it is supposed to go.

Sandy roared up the East Coast on Oct. 29 and was blamed for 140 deaths and billions of dollars in property damage. New York and New Jersey were the hardest hit areas.

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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