Sandy Victims Attack Aid Distribution [AUDIO]
Nearly 15 months since Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New Jersey, and a year since Congress approved a multibillion dollar aid package, a number of Garden-Staters still have no real place to call home.
A handful of frustrated Sandy victims testified before the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee on Wednesday, detailing their encounters with "red tape" and "bureaucracy" in their process to rebuild from the storm. The panel held the hearing to gauge the state's efforts in distributing the $1.8 billion in federal funding that already arrived.
Among the residents heard by the committee was Lee Ann Newland of Neptune, whose home was destroyed by the October 2012 storm. No work has been done on her home since, and that's the same complaint she had in August when she first appeared before a panel of lawmakers in Atlantic City.
"We continue to pay our mortgage," Newland explained. "We're sitting with this house that we can't even go in anymore because we have now developed lung issues from the mold."
Newland and her husband believe they're on the wait-list for a rebuilding grant, but they claim they haven't heard anything about it since the summer.
Keyport resident Wanda Peterson also appeared before the committee, recalling her stint of homelessness following the storm and being separated from her two daughters. "Through God's grace," she was able to pay for her cell phone bill while on the streets, in order to speak with state officials.
New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable told lawmakers the state has distributed nearly half of its initial funding. Another $1.4 billion is headed to New Jersey in the near future, and the state should have a draft action plan by the end of this month, explaining how it plans to use the new money.
"I fully recognize that too many people remain out of their homes, that too many people are still rebuilding, that people are frustrated," Constable told the panel. "I hear their frustration, and I assure you that every day our singular focus at the Department is to get our Sandy-impacted neighbors back in their homes."
Following the hearing, Committee Chair Jerry Green (D-Plainfield) pledged to work with Constable's office "to see how we can cut through the red tape, restore confidence in the recovery program and get these residents the help they need."