Disaster Preparedness & Recovery

N.J. Outlines Plans for Next $1.46 Billion in Sandy Aid

While New Jersey received $1.8 billion in the first phase of funding allocated by HUD, the state still has $19 billion in unmet needs.

A home in Mantoloking, N.J., was pushed off its foundation into the boat docks behind it, which were filled with sand washed in by Hurricane Sandy. Photo courtesy of Steve Zumwalt/FEMA Steve Zumwalt/FEMA
 

Gov. Chris Christie outlined his spending plan Monday for $1.46 billion set to come to New Jersey in the second wave of last-resort federal funds approved by the Obama administration in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

The proposal calls for about half of the money to be directed toward homeowner assistance, rental housing, and renter programs. The rest would go toward infrastructure programs, local government, planning, and oversight.

While New Jersey received $1.8 billion last year in the first phase of funding allocated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the plan says the state still has $19 billion in unmet needs. Most programs have waiting lists or are underfunded.

"These additional disaster-relief funds will allow the state to expand the recovery initiatives and programs to assist Sandy-impacted residents, businesses, and communities," Christie said in a statement Monday.

"My mission remains to ensure that everyone who was impacted by Sandy gets their lives back to normal," he said, "and I won't rest until that mission is complete."

Yet even as Christie forged ahead with a spending plan, it remained unclear Monday who would administer the biggest single line-item expense of $390 million.

The governor earmarked that money for the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation & Mitigation (RREM) program, the state's largest Sandy housing-recovery initiative, which until December was overseen by the Louisiana firm Hammerman & Gainer Inc.

Without public notice or explanation, the state terminated its $68 million contract with the company and reached a $10.5 million settlement agreement.

The RREM program, which received $710 million in the first round of federal aid known as Community Development Block Grants, gives grants of up to $150,000 to residents to repair storm-damaged homes. The new funding would help about 3,000 eligible homeowners, the plan says.

Marc Ferzan, executive director of the Governor's Office of Recovery and Rebuilding, characterized the termination of the contract as part of a normal part of disaster recovery.

"With existing contractor resources and streamlined support, we will continue to operate those programs seamlessly and continue to look for opportunities to further automate and streamline," Ferzan said Monday on a conference call with reporters.

Christie's use of Sandy funding has been a point of contention. Homeowners have testified at legislative hearings that aid has come too slowly. Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, a Democrat, has accused the Christie administration of tying FEMA-approved Sandy relief to a politically connected development project.

The U.S. Attorney's Office is investigating that charge, which Christie's office has denied.

The HUD-approved funding comes from Community Development Block Grants, which states can apply for after they have exhausted other sources of funds, such as FEMA or private insurance. HUD has required that 80 percent of the funding go toward the nine counties most affected by the October 2011 storm.

Under the Christie administration's new plan, $100 million in homeowner assistance would be used to buy flood-prone homes and convert them into open space, while about $220 million would be spent on affordable housing.

HUD requires half of the funding be allocated to low- to moderate-income households. Affordable-housing advocates questioned whether Christie's proposal met that threshold. Separately Monday, the Christie administration requested $17 million from HUD in tenant-based housing vouchers for low-income families.

"The new plan doubles down on Christie's failed Sandy strategy," said Adam Gordon of the Fair Share Housing Center in Cherry Hill. "It provides a road map for more political spending over real relief that meets the needs of people most impacted by Sandy."

About $530 million would go toward infrastructure programs, including an "energy resilience bank" to finance projects that would keep key public facilities such as hospitals and wastewater-treatment plants running in the event of a broader power failure.

The plan also would direct $105 million toward economic development and essential services for local government, and $83 million to planning and oversight.

(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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