HIGHLANDS - Sandy-ravaged communities are a step closer to a delay of sharp increases to flood insurance, after a plan passed the Senate Thursday.

Homeowners in flood-prone areas say they can't breathe a sigh of relief yet, but are encouraged by the news.

Critics are complaining the plan will stall efforts to reform the federal flood insurance program to make it more solvent and less-dependent on taxpayer bailouts.

Families still trying to recover from Sandy say they just cannot afford to pay any more than they're already paying. Lynn and Charles Orchard have raised three kids in their home of 35 years, and wonder what they'll do if they are forced to pay higher insurance rates.

"I pay $3,000 a year in insurances alone on this house," says Lynn Orchard. "This is not an upper income area."

The measure passed by the Senate would put off hefty flood insurance premium hikes for up to four years. Sen. Robert Menendez is the lead sponsor.

"It's the right action to take for families who could lose their homes due to crushing flood insurance premiums," Menendez says.

The Senate bill passed 67-32 with large bipartisan support, but it could face a battle in the House.

Opponents warn higher premiums are needed to make the government's flood insurance program more stable in the future.

Homeowners can escape increased rates by elevating their home 8 feet, but that costs an estimated $70,000 to $80,000.