Christie assures Shore homeowners of rebuilding funds
Christie told a town-hall-style meeting in Stafford Township, just inland from Long Beach Island, that a coming allocation of federal disaster aid announced last week would be enough to fully fund the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation program, known as RREM.
About 5,400 homeowners have already been promised grants of up to $150,000 each to rebuild homes badly damaged in the October 2012 storm. But about 6,000 others were preliminarily found to be qualified for the grants, but have remained on waiting lists.
Christie's administration has made rebuilding damaged homes the centerpiece of its recovery effort. But the process has been frustratingly slow for many homeowners.
At the town-hall meeting Wednesday, Christie was thanked by one homeowner for the program that was rebuilding her home.
But he also heard from Sandra Smith, who applied for funds last year to elevate her family's home in Avon Beach on Long Beach Island. She said officials lost her application materials three times, and then lost her paperwork when she appealed. She said customer service agents have been telling her that what she was told previously was wrong.
"Every single time I talk to anyone from RREM, I ended up feeling like Alice falling down the rabbit hole," said the 76-year-old retiree. "Nothing makes sense."
Sandra Maglio, who lives in Beach Haven West, did not get a chance to speak with the governor, but said afterward that she received a $56,000 grant, but because of administrative problems has not been able to get the work done. Now, she fears the grant money will expire.
Christie has pledged to fix the administrative problems as he expands the program to more homeowners.
The state learned last week that it is in line for a third federal allocation of state-controlled disaster-relief money of $882 million. That would bring the state's total to $4.2 billion.
The state has not yet developed a full plan for using the third allocation, but Christie said he intended to use part of it to help the remaining 3,000 homeowners on the waiting list.
Christie said Wednesday that the state would soon be starting environmental and historical reviews for everyone on the waiting list for the program - something that could streamline the process for them.
"We didn't do it before," he said, "because we didn't know we were going to have the money."