Answers Sought on Sandy Aid [AUDIO]
A bipartisan delegation of New Jersey's representatives in Washington got answers about Superstorm Sandy recovery money after meeting with Housing and Urban Development secretary Shaun Donovan recently.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-4th) said the meeting was positive, as far as the group's ability to communicate New Jersey's concerns and secure a verbal commitment from Donovan.
"We have a bedrock commitment from him that all of the unmet housing needs of New Jersey will be taken care of, pursuant to the funding," Smith said.
He said they called for a meeting with Donovan after hearing from constituents who were still on the waiting list for the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation, or RREM, grants. There are 6,300 applicants waiting for grants of as much as $150,000 through the program, according to Smith.
In the 4th District alone, Smith said he has 1,000 constituents on the waiting list.
"I started off the meeting talking about the Quinn family from Toms River, now living in Lakewood," Smith said. "Ten months to the day, that's how long they've been waiting; July 8, 2013, they got their preliminary approval letter and they still haven't gotten their check, and what they have to do now is demolish the home."
The delegation brought up other concerns as well, like a provision that automatically disqualifies homeowners from receiving the RREM grant if they begin doing work on their homes before securing grant approval.
"So, I really made a strong push for changing that regulation, and if he (Donovan) feels he can't do it within the parameters of current law, I have a bill that would fix it and I'm asking for his support," Smith said.
Another concern is the possibility of having disaster funding, set aside for New Jersey, distributed to other states. Smith said they learned about the "resiliency competition" from the Wall Street Journal, where grants would be given out on a competitive basis related to resiliency to withstand natural disasters, such as a flood or a hurricane elsewhere in the country. The delegation urged Donovan not to go forward with the resiliency competition, but according to Smith, Donovan responded by saying HUD hasn't made a decision yet.
Smith said the delegation also wants to know why New York is getting almost $7 billion in Sandy recovery money when New Jersey is only getting a little over $3 billion. He said he's asked Donovan for a comprehensive analysis that would give a reason for the nearly $4 billion disparity between the two states.
According to a press release, Thursday's meeting was also attended by New Jersey Reps. Frank LoBiondo (R-2nd), Jon Runyan (R-3rd), Scott Garrett (R-5th), Frank Pallone (D-6th), Leonard Lance (R-7th), Albio Sires (D-8th), Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-9th), Donald M. Payne Jr. (D-10th), and staff.
Smith said U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-NJ) were also invited but were unable to attend.