Sandy Victims in N.J. Still Looking To Receive Housing Assistance Funds

November 15, 2013 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

damaged houseIt’s heartbreaking to watch the scenes coming out of the Philippines as victims of Typhoon Haiyan try to survive the utter devastation surrounding them. After a natural disaster of this magnitude, poorer regions of the world may face too many obstacles to recover. 

In the U.S., it should be a different story, as federal emergency funds are allocated to help U.S. communities rocked by hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc. However, getting these funds to the people that need them is proving to be a challenging process.

I recently saw an article in the New York Times stating that as of the recent anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, which smashed into the East Coast in October 2012, New Jersey had distributed only about a quarter of the $1.2 billion the federal government had awarded to the state to help homeowners and renters recover. These statistics are based on documents obtained by the state’s housing advocacy groups.

According to the story, these housing advocacy groups have sued Gov. Chris Christie’s administration to determine how the state awarded the recovery grants, and why so many residents have not seen the promised disaster relief money. State officials quoted in the story disputed documents presented by the housing advocacy groups, saying that 34 percent of the funds had been given to residents, and attributed delays to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Still, an official with the Community Development Network of New Jersey said the federal government signed off on New Jersey’s plan to spend the money more than six months ago and released the funds in May.

State officials told the New York Times that, in an effort to prevent fraud that followed Hurricane Katrina, the state had to determine how much money the homeowner has received from private insurance or other federal programs, verify all receipts and conduct environmental and historic reviews of each property. Despite this, the housing groups told the Times that the governor has not done enough to explain the delays to residents and has declined invitations to meet with them.

I understand typical federal bureaucracy and the need to ensure that the funds are distributed and managed correctly, but following emergencies such as Hurricane Sandy, extra effort needs to be made to get the funds out to those that need them. If the amount is 25 percent or 34 percent, that pace is just too slow.

One would hope that if another hurricane, one as huge as Sandy, was to hit the state again in the next few months (God forbid!), assistance would go to the residents faster. Picking up the pieces is hard enough, but it’s even harder if you have to fight just to get some help.

Let us know how you feel about this issue. Are the residents’ concerns legitimate or is the state taking the right approach?


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