A long-delayed $50.5bn aid package for victims of superstorm Sandy has cleared the US senate, three months after the storm destroyed and damaged hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
The package, approved 62-36 by the Democratic-controlled senate on Monday, now goes to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.
Added to flood insurance legislation passed by congress earlier this month, it brings Sandy aid appropriations to $60.2bn.
All of the opposing legislators were Republicans. But nine Republicans joined Democrats in voting yes to narrowly cross the 60-vote threshold required to overcome a possible Republican filibuster, which could have delayed the bill indefinitely.
The senate also defeated a Republican amendment that sought to offset the Sandy aid with cuts to discretionary spending spread over the next nine years.
The vote was delayed last week while senate leaders wrangled over new rules aimed at limiting filibusters, which are routinely used by the minority party to block legislation supported by a majority of the Senate's 100 members.
'Waiting' for months
Sandy's victims "have been waiting for three months for their federal government to step up and help them rebuild their lives and rebuild their livelihoods", Barbara Mikulski, Democratic senator from Maryland, said.
"They have been waiting and waiting."
The package will provide $10bn to repair public transport infrastructure, $5.3bn to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund, and $16bn in grants for municipalities to rebuild homes and businesses.
"This bill meets the current needs of the recovery efforts," Mikulski said.
Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah tried to rein in the Sandy package by seeking to offset the costs with a 0.5-percentage-point reduction in annual discretionary spending.
He said senators owed it to Americans to consider how the disaster spending might impair US ability to fund other programs such as defense or healthcare.
"We have to stop and consider the fact that we are more than $16tn in debt and we're adding to that debt at a rate of more than $1 trillion every single year," Lee said.
His amendment was defeated 62-35 in another party-line split.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the $50.5bn package on January 15, largely with Democratic votes.
The $60.2bn in aid is short of the $82bn initially requested by New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.