Confusing bureaucracy, a lack of clear guidelines, contradictory information and scant money for rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy were just some of the issues that New Jersey homeowners raised during a meeting with Sen. Robert Menendez on Monday.
Menendez met with about two dozen residents from across the state at his Newark office ahead of a Senate subcommittee meeting he’s set to chair on Wednesday that will examine Sandy coordination efforts between federal, state and local officials.
“Listening to their stories I can’t imagine of a worse system that could have been contrived to try and help these people,” Menendez said, adding that he would push for a uniform set of application standards, recommend allowing deadline extensions for anyone who was disqualified because an agency lost their paperwork and urge more transparency in the criteria used to determine who gets assistance.
Menendez heard from frustrated homeowners who said they could not get clear answers on what kind of aid they were eligible for, or what they needed in order to qualify. Several said they were on waiting lists for aid that numbered in the thousands of applicants, but they had no idea of the criteria for the list’s ranking or when their names might come up. Most of the paperwork and applications were being done by hand, Menendez added, a process he said was mystifying in the age of computers.
Separately, a New Jersey Assembly committee postponed a hearing that had been scheduled for Monday on oversight of the state’s Superstorm Sandy rebuilding and recovery programs. Assemblywoman Linda Stender said she would hold the hearing within the next 10 days. Stender and some activists have expressed frustration that Gov. Chris Christie’s administration has not made public any reports – as required under a law adopted last year – from integrity monitors that are supposed to track spending of federal money passed through the state government to help with recovery from the 2012 storm.
Brick homeowner Kathleen Tomko spoke to Menendez on Monday, recounting in a dizzying array of acronyms all the programs she had applied for and where the criteria and rules seemed to be constantly in flux. A year after Sandy, Tomko said she was still not able to move back into her flood-damaged home, and couldn’t get a clear answer on whether it had to be razed or elevated, and whether she could get financial help.
“I truly believe that the Jersey shore is a great place, and I want to stay there, but dealing with all the insurance, and the whole process, it’s over-burdensome, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to get through it,” Tomko said.
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