BY ANDREW MIGA, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON — Three months after Superstorm Sandy devastated coastal areas in much of the Northeast, the Senate moved Monday toward passing a $50.5 billion emergency package of relief and recovery aid after House Republicans stripped it of spending unrelated to disasters.

Despite opposition from conservatives concerned about adding billions of dollars more to the nation's debt, Northeast lawmakers were optimistic about having the 60 votes needed to win Senate approval and send the long-delayed package to President Barack Obama, who has said he would sign it. The House passed the bill two weeks ago.

Lawmakers say the money is urgently needed to start rebuilding homes, businesses, public transportation facilities and other infrastructure damaged by the Oct. 29 storm, one of the worst ever to strike the Northeast. Sandy is blamed for more than 130 deaths in the U.S. and tens of billions of dollars in property damages, particularly in New York and New Jersey.

"There's no excuse for delay," said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. "We need to get assistance to victims of Sandy as soon as possible.

The biggest chunk of money is $16 billion for Housing and Urban Development Department community development block grants. Of that, about $12 billion will be shared among Sandy victims as well as those from other federally declared disasters in 2011-2013. The remaining $3.9 billion is solely for Sandy-related projects.

More than $11 billion will go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief aid fund for shelter, restoring power and other storm-interrupted utility services and meeting other immediate needs arising from Sandy and other disasters. Another $10 billion is devoted to repairing New York and New Jersey transit systems and making them more resistant to future storms.

"The funding in this bill is urgently needed," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., as Senate debate began. "Hundreds of thousands of families have seen their lives turned upside down."

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., said Republicans weren't seeking "to undermine" help for Sandy victims, but instead wre trying to make sure that the money was actually being spent on emergency needs.

"We're simply trying to say we need some standards," Coats said.

Earlier in January, Congress approved and Obama signed a $9.7 billion bill to replenish the National Flood Insurance Program, which has received well more than 100,000 flood insurance claims from businesses, homeowners and businesses related to Sandy. Added to the new, $50.5 billion package, the total is is roughly in line with the $60.4 billion that Obama requested in December.

Sandy damaged or destroyed 305,000 housing units in New York and more than 265,000 businesses were disrupted there, according to officials. In New Jersey, more than 346,000 households were destroyed or damaged.

The aid package was greased for passage before the last Congress adjourned and the new one came in on Jan. 3. But Speaker John Boehner refused to bring it to the floor after two-thirds of House Republicans voted against a "fiscal cliff" deficit reduction deal raising taxes on couples making more than $450,000 a year while deferring some $24 billion in spending cuts to have been shared between defense and domestic programs.

The ruckus after the Senate had passed an earlier $60.4 billion Sandy relief package by a nearly 2-to-1 margin on Dec. 28 exposed deep political divisions within Republican ranks. "There's only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims, the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner," Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fumed at the time.

Top House Republicans responded by bringing new Sandy aid legislation to the floor under ground rules designed to win over as many Republicans as possible while retaining support from Democrats eager to approve as much in disaster aid as possible.

GOP leaders cut spending in the Senate bill unrelated to disasters. One was to transfer $1 billion for training Iraqi policemen to instead be used on bolstering security at U.S. diplomatic missions abroad in the wake of a Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed.

Also deleted was $188 million for an Amtrak expansion project that included new, long-planned tunnels from New Jersey to Penn Station in Manhattan, and another $150 million for fisheries disasters that states such as Alaska and Mississippi could have shared.

After all the cost-cutting, 179 House Republicans still voted against the disaster aid package with only 49 favoring it. GOP leaders had to rely on yes votes from 192 Democrats to pass it.

As with past natural disasters, the Sandy aid bill does not offset the aid with spending cuts, meaning the aid comes at the cost of higher deficits. The lone exception is an offset provision requiring that $3.4 billion for Army Corps of Engineers projects to protect against future storms be covered by unspecified spending cuts of an equal amount in other programs before next October.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, sought to amend the final package Monday with a provision to cut federal programs across the board by one-half of 1 percent through 2021 as a way to prevent the disaster aid from swelling the U.S. debt. Democrats were optimistic Lee would be unable to muster 60 votes needed to prevail.

As of Monday, FEMA said it spent $3.3 billion in disaster relief money for shelter, restoring power and other immediate needs arising from the storm.

New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New Hampshire, Ohio, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia have shared that money.

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  • Seaside Heights, N.J.

    John Okeefe walks on the beach as a rollercoaster that once sat on the Funtown Pier in Seaside Heights, N.J., rests in the ocean on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012 after the pier was washed away by superstorm Sandy which made landfall Monday evening.

  • Ocean City, M.D.

    A National Guard humvee travels through high water to check the area after the effects of Hurricane Sandy Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Ocean City, Md. Sandy, the storm that made landfall Monday, caused multiple fatalities, halted mass transit and cut power to more than 6 million homes and businesses. (Alex Brandon, AP)

  • Lower Manhattan

    Water is pumped on to the street in lower Manhattan in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012. The New York region is replacing a rail network built over a century with a patchwork constructed day-by-day to move its 8 million people again as it struggles back to life after Hurricane Sandy.

  • Queens, N.Y.

    People walk by a destroyed section of the Rockaway boardwalk in the heavily damaged Rockaway section of Queens after the historic boardwalk was washed away during Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 31, 2012 in the Queens borough of New York City. With the death toll currently at 55 and millions of homes and businesses without power, the US east coast is attempting to recover from the affects of floods, fires and power outages brought on by Hurricane Sandy. JFK airport in New York and Newark airport in New Jersey expect to resume flights on Wednesday morning and the New York Stock Exchange commenced trading after being closed for two days.

  • Brooklyn Bridge, N.Y.

    Commuters cross New York's Brooklyn Bridge, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. The floodwaters that poured into New York's deepest subway tunnels may pose the biggest obstacle to the city's recovery from the worst natural disaster in the transit system's 108-year history.

  • Storm-Damaged Communities On East Coast Hit By Nor'Easter

    NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 08: Alex Vila, 2, carries a box of cereal after visiting an aid station for people affected by Superstorm Sandy on November 8, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Household supplies and groceries were distributed to Red Hook neighborhood residents by Catholic Charities at the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary church. Meanwhile a nor'easter storm plunged temperatures to below freezing, bringing more misery to many Red Hook residents still without power, heat nor running water in their public housing apartments. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

  • US-WEATHER-STORM-SANDY

    Boats and docks damaged by Hurricane Sandy are seen at the Mansion Marinia on the shores of the Great Kills community November 7, 2012 on Staten Island, New York. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday announced a limited evacuation of some neighborhoods ahead of harsh weather barreling toward a city still recovering from superstorm Sandy. The national weather service forecast heavy rain and likely snow on Wednesday and Thursday, accompanied by gale force winds gusting as high as 43 mph (69 kmh). Though barely half the strength of Sandy, the autumn storm will lash already damaged buildings and bring lower temperatures for tens of thousands of people still struggling without electricity. Bloomberg told a news conference that parks and beaches would close. The worst-hit patches of waterfront neighborhoods, including Rockaways in the Queens borough, and in Staten Island, were being asked to evacuate again. AFP PHOTO/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Storm-Damaged Communities On East Coast Hit By Nor'Easter

    LONG BRANCH, NJ - NOVEMBER 08: Debris from Superstorm Sandy is seen on a beach November 8, 2012 in Long Branch, New Jersey. Meanwhile a nor'easter storm plunged temperatures to below freezing, bringing more misery to many residents throughout New York and New Jersey still without power. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • Long Island Residents, Many Still Without Power, Continue To Clean Up After Superstorm Sandy

    OCEANSIDE, NY - NOVEMBER 09: (L-R) James Vouloukos and William Ferris sort through donated clothes at a site maintained by the Town of Hempstead in cooperation with FEMA at Oceanside Park during in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy on November 9, 2012 in Oceanside, New York. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said that the economic loss and damage to homes and businesses caused by Sandy could total $33 billion in New York, according to published reports. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

  • Funeral Held in Brooklyn For Two Young Brothers Killed During Superstorm Sandy

    NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 09: New York sanitation department workers watch as a hearse arrives with a casket carrying the bodies of two brothers killed during Superstorm Sandy for a funeral at the St. Rose of Lima Catholic church on November 9, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Brandon Moore, 2, and Connor Moore, 4, were swept away from the arms of their mother Glenda Moore as she fled Superstorm Sandy floodwaters in New York's Staten Island borough to seek safety with family in Brooklyn. She is married to New York Sanitation worker Damian Moore, and dozens of workers and officials from the sanitation department attended the funeral ceremony. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

  • Long Island Residents, Many Still Without Power, Continue To Clean Up After Superstorm Sandy

    ISLAND PARK, NY - NOVEMBER 09: (L-R) Residents Paul and Donald Zezulinski and their dog 'Plywood' of Island Park show their appreciation to first responders during their clean up efforts in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy on November 9, 2012 in Island Park, New York. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said that the economic loss and damage to homes and business caused by Sandy could total $33 billion in New York, according to published reports. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

  • FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 file photo, people stand next to a house collapsed from Superstorm Sandy in East Haven, Conn. While Connecticut was spared the destruction seen in New York and New Jersey, many communities along the shoreline, including some of the wealthiest towns in America, were struggling with one of the most severe storms in generations. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

  • Meg Dolan holds her dog "Nellie" during Sunday mass at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Breezy Point, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, in New York. With overnight temperatures sinking into the 30s and hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses still without electricity six days after Sandy howled through, people piled on layers of clothes, and New York City officials handed out blankets and urged victims to go to overnight shelters or daytime warming centers. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

  • A representative of the Salvation Army walks past homes destroyed by Superstorm Sandy in Breezy Point, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, in New York. The beachfront neighborhood heavy populated by firefighters and police officers was devastated during the storm when a fire pushed by Sandy's raging winds destroyed 100 or more homes and buildings. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

  • Ginny Flanagan, right, and her sister go through photographs and mementos that were recovered from Flanagan's flooded bungalow in Breezy Point, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, in New York. The beachfront enclave heavy populated by firefighters and police officers was devastated during the storm when a fire pushed by Sandy's raging winds destroyed 100 or more homes and buildings. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

  • US-WEATHER-STORM-SANDY-MARATHON

    Runner Jonathan who would have run the ING New York City Marathon, spend the afternoon volunteering by unloading and organizing emergency supplies near Midland Beach as New York recovers from Hurricane Sandy on November 4, 2012 in Staten Island, New York. AFP PHOTO / Mehdi Taamallah (Photo credit should read MEHDI TAAMALLAH/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A woman with her groceries passes a group of National Guardsmen as they march up 1st Avenue towards the 69th Regiment Armory, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, in New York. National Guardsmen remain in Manhattan as the city begins to move towards normalcy following Superstorm Sandy earlier in the week. (AP Photo/ John Minchillo)

  • Patrons on foot carrying gas canisters line up for gasoline at a Hess station in the New Dorp section of the Staten Island borough of New York, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012. Those on foot reported waits up to 40 minutes while motorists lined up for two hours as Staten Islanders fueled up to run their generators and automobiles in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. (AP Photo/Eileen AJ Connelly)

  • Girls hold hands during Sunday mass at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Breezy Point, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, in New York. With overnight temperatures sinking into the 30s and hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses still without electricity six days after Sandy howled through, people piled on layers of clothes, and New York City officials handed out blankets and urged victims to go to overnight shelters or daytime warming centers. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

  • Many streets in the Silver Lake section of Belmar, N.J., remain underwater Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, Neighbors and volunteers clean out homes Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, in Belmar, N.J., five days after the storm surge by superstorm Sandy. (AP Photo/Ben Nukols)

  • Water from superstorm Sandy is pumped from a flooded basement of an office building near New York's Battery Park, Friday, Nov. 2, 2012. The massive storm that started out as Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast and morphed into a huge and problematic system, killing at least 96 people in the United States. The cost of the storm could exceed $18 billion in New York alone. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

  • Cars that were uprighted and submerged by Superstorm Sandy remain at the entrance of a subterranean parking garage in New York's Financial District, as the water is pumped out, Friday, Nov. 2, 2012. . The cost of the storm could exceed $18 billion in New York alone. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

  • National Guard in Lower Manhattan

    The National Guard 827th Engineer Company helps hand out MREs to Lower Manhattan residents at the Alfred Smith Playground on Friday Nov. 2, 2012. (Damon Dahlen, AOL)

  • National Guard in Lower Manhattan

    The National Guard 827th Engineer Company helps hand out MREs to Lower Manhattan residents at the Alfred Smith Playground on Friday Nov. 2, 2012. (Damon Dahlen, AOL)

  • Grand Central Terminal, New York City

    People walk through Grand Central Terminal as the sun rises during a subdued morning rush on Nov. 1, 2012 in New York City. Some trains are back up and running into Grand Central following shutdowns in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Subway train service in the city is back in a limited capacity, but with much of lower Manhattan still with out power, trains are not running there and busses are replacing them.

  • Seaside Heights, N.J.

    A roller coaster sits in the Atlantic Ocean after the Fun Town pier it sat on was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy on Nov. 1, 2012 in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. With the death toll continuing to rise and millions of homes and businesses without power, the U.S. east coast is attempting to recover from the effects of floods, fires and power outages brought on by Superstorm Sandy.

  • National Guard in Lower Manhattan

    The National Guard 827th Engineer Company helps hand out MREs to Lower Manhattan residents at the Alfred Smith Playground on Friday Nov. 2, 2012. (Damon Dahlen, AOL)

  • Charging Station Provided By AT&T

    Phillip Melly charges the phones of Hurricane Sandy victims at Kimlau Square in Lower Manhattan on Friday Nov. 2, 2012. The generators used were brought in by AT&T to help out the residents of Lower Manhattan in New York City who currently have no power. (Damon Dahlen, AOL)

  • Stocking Up On Ice

    United City Ice Cube Company workers who refer to themselves as "Icemen" take in a shipment of ice into their 45th and 10th ave. store on Friday Nov. 2, 2012. The workers who asked not to be identified by name said there had been a run on ice purchases due to Hurricane Sandy and they were stocking up in anticipation of more demand in the coming days. (Damon Dahlen, AOL)

  • Car Crash Due To Power Outage

    The power outage in Lower Manhattan due to Hurricane Sandy has created a gauntlet of dangerous street intersections as can be seen by this car accident at the Houston and Varick Street crossing on Friday Nov. 2, 2012. (Damon Dahlen, AOL)

  • Car Crash Due To Power Outage

    The power outage in Lower Manhattan due to Hurricane Sandy has created a gauntlet of dangerous street intersections as can be seen by this car accident at the Houston and Varick Street crossing on Friday Nov. 2, 2012. (Damon Dahlen, AOL)

  • Clean Drinking Water

    Pedestrians fill up on water at a drinking station that had been setup at the corner of Centre and Canal Streets in Chinatown on Friday Nov. 2, 2012. The stations use water from fire hydrants and have been erected due to the blackout caused by Hurricane Sandy in Lower Manhattan. (Damon Dahlen, AOL)

  • Trash Picking In Chinatown

    A pedestrian looks through discarded food near a supermarket located at Henry and Market Streets in Chinatown New York on Friday Nov. 2, 2012.

  • Fort Lee, N.J.

    People wait in line for fuel at a Shell Oil station on Nov. 1, 2012 in Fort Lee, New Jersey. The US death toll from Hurricane Sandy rose to at least 85 as New York reported a major jump in fatalities caused by Monday's storm. Fuel shortages led to long lines of cars at gasoline stations in many states and the country faced a storm bill of tens of billions of dollars.

  • New York City

    Commuters ride the F train Nov. 1, 2012 in New York City. Limited public transit has returned to New York. With the death toll continuing to rise and millions of homes and businesses without power, the U.S. east coast is attempting to recover from the effects of floods, fires and power outages brought on by Superstorm Sandy.

  • Toms River, N.J.

    A gas station displays a "No Gas" sign on November 1, 2012 in Toms River, New Jersey. With the death toll continuing to rise and millions of homes and businesses without power, the U.S. east coast is attempting to recover from the effects of floods, fires and power outages brought on by Superstorm Sandy.

  • Fort Lee, N.J.

    Cars wait in line for fuel at a Gulf gas station on Nov.1, 2012 in Fort Lee, New Jersey. The US death toll from Hurricane Sandy rose to at least 85 as New York reported a major jump in fatalities caused by Monday's storm. Fuel shortages led to long lines of cars at gasoline stations in many states and the country faced a storm bill of tens of billions of dollars.

  • Brooklyn, N.Y.

    New Yorkers wait in traffic as they head into Manhattan from Brooklyn as the city continues to recover from superstorm Sandy on Nov.1, 2012, in New York, United States. Limited public transit has returned to New York and most major bridges have reopened but will require three occupants in the vehicle to pass. With the death toll currently over 70 and millions of homes and businesses without power, the US east coast is attempting to recover from the effects of floods, fires and power outages brought on by superstorm Sandy.

  • Hoboken, N.J.

    Mud and debris liiter a street on Nov.1, 2012 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Hurricane victims continue to recover from Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall along the New Jersey shore, and left parts of the state and the surrounding area flooded and without power.

  • Washington, D.C.

    Firefighters shoot water into a building in the 1200 block of 4th St., NE, near the recently opened Union Market, after responding to a blaze that broke out around 9pm Wednesday night.

  • Seaside Heights, N.J.

    Debris lies on the boardwalk in front of the Casino Pier, which was partially destroyed by Superstorm Sandy on Nov.1, 2012 in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. With the death toll continuing to rise and millions of homes and businesses without power, the U.S. east coast is attempting to recover from the effects of floods, fires and power outages brought on by Superstorm Sandy.

  • Long Island Residents, Many Still Without Power, Continue To Clean Up After Superstorm Sandy

    LONG BEACH, NY - NOVEMBER 09: A man walks past a destroyed section of the boardwalk at the base of Lincoln Boulevard as Long Islanders continue their clean up efforts in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy on November 9, 2012 in Long Beach, New York. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said that the economic loss and damage to homes and business caused by Sandy could total $33 billion in New York, according to published reports. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

  • Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, N.Y.

    A New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer looks over flood waters at the entrance to the Brooklyn Battery tunnel in New York, U.S., on Nov. 1, 2012. The New York region is replacing a rail network built over a century with a patchwork constructed day-by-day to move its 8 million people again as it struggles back to life after Hurricane Sandy.

  • New York City

    Residents charge their cell phones and computers on the East River esplanade in New York, U.S., on Nov. 1, 2012. The New York region is replacing a rail network built over a century with a patchwork constructed day-by-day to move its 8 million people again as it struggles back to life after Hurricane Sandy.

  • Toms River, N.J.

    An American flag flies in front of a home damaged by Hurricane Sandy on Nov. 1, 2012 in Toms River, New Jersey. With the death toll continuing to rise and millions of homes and businesses without power, the U.S. east coast is attempting to recover from the effects of floods, fires and power outages brought on by superstorm Sandy.

  • North Bergen, New Jersey

    A woman leaves an Exxon gas station which was out of gas on Nov. 1, 2012 in North Bergen, New Jersey. The US death toll from Hurricane Sandy rose to at least 85 as New York reported a major jump in fatalities caused by Monday's storm. Fuel shortages led to long lines of cars at gasoline stations in many states and the country faced a storm bill of tens of billions of dollars.

  • Manhattan from Hoboken, N.J.

    People board the NY Waterways ferry with the Manhattan skyline in the background Nov.1, 2012 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall along the New Jersey shore, left parts of the state and the surrounding area without power including much of lower Manhattan south of 34th Street.

  • South Ferry 1 Train Station, New York City

    Joseph Leader, Metropolitan Tranportation Authority Vice President and Chief Maintenance Officer, shines a flashlight on standing water inside the South Ferry 1 train station in New York, N.Y., Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in the wake of superstorm Sandy. The floodwaters that poured into New York's deepest subway tunnels may pose the biggest obstacle to the city's recovery from the worst natural disaster in the transit system's 108-year history.

  • Grand Central Terminal, New York City

    People exit a Metro-North train arriving in Grand Central Terminal during the morning rush on Nov. 1, 2012 in New York City. Some trains are back up and running into Grand Central following shutdowns in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Subway train service in the city is back in a limited capacity, but with much of lower Manhattan still with out power, trains are not running there and busses are replacing them.

  • Brooklyn, N.Y.

    Pedestrians look over a fence at a pile of boats flooded inland at the Varuna Boat Club on Oct. 31, 2012, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Sandy, the storm that made landfall Monday, caused multiple fatalities, halted mass transit and cut power to more than 6 million homes and businesses.

  • Queens, N.Y.

    Damage is viewed in the Rockaway neighborhood where the historic boardwalk was washed away during Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 31, 2012 in the Queens borough of New York City. With the death toll currently at 55 and millions of homes and businesses without power, the US east coast is attempting to recover from the affects of floods, fires and power outages brought on by Hurricane Sandy. JFK airport in New York and Newark airport in New Jersey expect to resume flights on Wednesday morning and the New York Stock Exchange commenced trading after being closed for two days.