Saturday, September 6, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Menendez hears about Sandy victims' recovery woes

NEWARK, N.J. - Confusing bureaucracy, a lack of clear guidelines, contradictory information, and scant money for rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy were just some of the issues that New Jersey homeowners raised during a meeting Monday with U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez.

Menendez (D., N.J.) met with about two dozen residents from across the state at his Newark office ahead of a Senate subcommittee meeting he is set to chair Wednesday that will examine Sandy coordination efforts among 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 Sandy rebuilding and recovery programs. Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D., Union) said she would hold the hearing within 10 days. Stender and some activists have expressed frustration that Gov. 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 on Monday recounted for Menendez 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 still was not able to move back into her flood-damaged home and could not 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.

Samantha Henry Associated Press
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