Jersey's New Sandy Aid Distribution Plan Draws Criticism

February 4, 2014

The state Monday released its plan for spending more than $1.46 billion in long-awaited federal funding for victims of Hurricane Sandy amid mounting criticism over how well and how fairly the money is being distributed.

The proposal pours hundreds of million of dollars into existing housing recovery programs with lengthy waiting lists and creates infrastructure programs aimed at mitigating flooding and hardening energy systems. It also sets aside $5 million for a tourism marketing campaign and provides $10 million for demolishing dilapidated homes.

Gov. Chris Christie and other top officials called the plan a step forward in the state’s recovery from the October 2012 storm.

Housing advocates criticized the state for largely following the same distribution pattern it had used for the first installment of federal aid.

In essence, they say, this plan throws good money after bad.

"We are very disappointed that the governor appears to be continuing down the same flawed path for this round of funding, one that has not produced the fair and equitable recovery N.J. deserves," said Staci Berger, president of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. The network is part of a coalition that has been highly critical of the state’s distribution of federal aid so far.

The plan, released by the state Department of Community Affairs, builds off the framework used for distributing the nearly $1.83 billion in Community Development Block Grants that New Jersey received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last spring

The Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation, or RREM, program, which has been lambasted by residents for long delays and a lack of communication, would receive an infusion of $390 million.

That extra funding would provide grants to about 3,000 homeowners, according to state officials, while thousands more would remain on the program’s waiting list.

The state quietly ended its contract with the firm overseeing that program in early December. State officials have not said who is now handling the program and why the $68 million contract with Louisiana-based Hammerman and Gainer Inc., or HGI, was terminated.

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