Assembly Democratic Bill to Ensure Equitable Distribution of Sandy Relief Funds Advanced by Budget Panel
By Mel Fabrikant Monday, March 24 2014 @ 04:53 PM EDT
Green, Prieto, Jimenez, Lagana & Mazzeo Push Fairness Measure amid Concerns about Christie Administration Response
Legislation sponsored by Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Jerry Green, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez and Assemblymen Joseph Lagana and Vince Mazzeo to ensure more equitable distribution of Sandy relief funds going forward was advanced Monday by an Assembly panel.
“The administration’s handling of the first round of funds has been lackluster and done little to nothing for many residents who had their homes severely damaged by the storm,” said Green (D-Union/Middlesex/Somerset). “This tragic storm inflicted immense damage to this state, and has driven more than a quarter-million state residents to seek governmental assistance, but the fact that residents are still struggling to rebuild more than a year after the storm is a disgrace. This bill can help avoid the same problems that plagued the first round of funds, and get these residents the help they need to finally get back on their feet.”
In autumn 2012, Superstorm Sandy ravaged New Jersey’s shoreline, as well as many other communities in the state. Sandy inflicted more than $36 billion of damage on New Jersey, and destroyed or damaged more than 72,000 of the state’s homes and businesses,
“It is clear from the numerous complaints from residents and communities affected by the storm that the administration’s initial distribution plan was flawed,” said Prieto (D-Hudson/Bergen). “The state cannot afford to make the same mistakes twice. This bill creates clear guidelines for the state to follow as it readies to distribute a second round of Sandy relief funds, and ensures there are no further delays in getting residents and municipalities still waiting for help the assistance they need to fully rebuild.”
Since the recovery effort began, the sponsors noted, too many victimized individuals, businesses and communities have experienced unreasonable suffering, inconveniences, and unfair treatment in their efforts to obtain governmental assistance.
These problems have arisen in the form of:
• Unclear application and appeals processes;
• Difficulties in obtaining the status of applications’;
• Rejections without any reasoning offered;
• Waiting lists provided without any clear order;
• Disparities in funding offered for African-American and Latino applicants;
• Insufficient and often inaccurate program information;
• State funding offered to certain communities in amounts disproportionate to the amount of damage endured;
• Insufficient resettlement funding offered to low and moderate income individuals; and
• An overall lack of transparency and refusals to respond to requests for information under the state’s open public records law.
“The state’s distribution of Sandy relief aid has been plagued by one question after another,” said Jimenez (D-Hudson/Bergen). “We need clear guidelines and planning to ensure we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past that have left many Sandy victims still suffering. This is a common sense bill that is sadly sorely needed at this point.”
“The administration needs to do better when it comes to Sandy relief funding,” said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Aid should be distributed by county and municipality in proportion to the damage sustained within each county and municipality, and we need clear rules and regulations to ensure that happens. This is a step in the right direction.”
“Sandy aid needs to be distributed fairly and sensibly,” said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “The state cannot afford to make the same mistakes again. A year and a half later many of my constituents are still rebuilding their homes. We must ensure that the countless victims of Sandy across our state get what they proportionately deserve in a timely and more efficient manner, and that’s the goal of this bill.”
The bill (A-2568) would require that any state action plan or amendment submitted to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development for the proposed use of Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery aid for relief efforts associated with Sandy include provisions to make the distribution of aid more equitable and transparent.
The provisions would be as follow:
• Aid be distributed by county and municipality in proportion to the damage sustained within each county and municipality;
• A county or municipality which did not receive aid from a prior ad distribution in such proportion, receive priority in the receipt of aid from a future aid distribution to compensate for the difference;
• Aid be distributed to renters and homeowners in urban communities in proportion to the damage sustained by each category of residents in urban communities and be distributed to renters and homeowners in suburban communities in proportion to the damage sustained by each category of residents in suburban communities. These proportions would be based upon the percentage of affected renters of homeowners in urban or suburban communities, as applicable;
• Aid for infrastructure only be distributed to a county or municipality if it allows and facilitates rebuilding and, if necessary, replacing homes for both renters and homeowners;
• The Department of Community Affairs investigate the low participation rates and high rejection rates of applicants from African-American and Hispanic-American communities;
• Aid be used to conduct outreach efforts to these underserved communities, including paid media campaigns and direct outreach to community organizations;
• Additional be set aside for Spanish speaking individuals who did not receive aid from a prior aid distribution due to the state’s provision of incorrect information in Spanish;
• The DCA post on its Internet website information about how aid has been and will be allocated, including information about every step in the allocation process, for all prior and future aid distributions;
• The DCA establish clear and uniform procedures by which aid is applied for and granted for each aid program it administers;
• The DCA post these procedures on its Internet website;
• The DCA post on its Internet website and include in its application materials a complete list of all documents required to apply for aid from these programs;
• These procedures include an opportunity to correct any deficiency with an application;
• The DCA establish a tracking system on its Internet website, and that may also be accessed by telephone or in-person, that allows each applicant to check on the status of an application and whether any additional documentation or materials are needed for aid to be granted;
• The DCA establish clear and uniform standards for the grant of aid to applicants who live or used to live, at the time of Superstorm Sandy, in a manufactured home or mobile home;
• The DCA establish a clear, predictable and transparent appeals process in which applicants are given clear and specific reasons for any denial of aid or other related determinations;
• The DCA establish a reasonable time frame for the appeals process;
• The DCA provide applicants on a wait list for aid a statement that explains the wait list process, indicates their location on the wait list and advises how updated information regarding the wait list may be obtained;
• The DCA establish clear guidelines and procedures for local contractors to obtain relief work in accordance with section 3 of the “Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968;” and
• Aid be set aside to assist applicants who did not receive aid from a prior ad distribution due to the lack of clarity or transparency in the process by which aid was distributed.
The measure was advanced by the Assembly Budget Committee and can now be considered by the full Assembly.