Sweeney: Hurricane Sandy victims still don’t have answers

On the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) went to Perth Amboy to demand that the state adopt the standards of his Bill of Rights to get the storm’s victims back into their homes. Sweeney singled out the administration of Gov. Chris Christie.

“It’s two years later and some of the storm’s victims still aren’t back in their homes, they still don’t have the answers they deserve and the oversight of the recovery process is falling short,” said Sweeney, who visited Perth Amboy in February to advocate for his proposed Sandy Bill of Rights, legislation that would have forced the government to give Sandy victims the answers and responses when asking for aid. Senator Sweeney’s legislation was vetoed by the governor. “The recovery process still isn’t working and the aftereffects are still being felt by the victims.”

The governor enacted another Sweeney bill requiring the use of Integrity Monitors to make sure the storm aid is spent responsibly and effectively, but the administration has failed to meet its requirements, Senator Sweeney said. Christie signed his bill into law in March 2013.

“I sponsored the bipartisan bill creating Integrity Monitors to ensure that the recovery money is spent responsibly but the administration has not lived up to the standards of the law,” said Sweeney. “The reports to the Legislature have been whitewashed and they lack information specifically called for in the law that would provide that would help ensure the public’s money is not wasted.”

The Department of Community Affairs has even refused to release the key Cohn Reznick reports, the original Integrity Monitor for the department’s performance.

“In many cases, monitors were not put in place until after substantial work had been done on the projects,” said senator Sweeney. “This is a direct violation of the law. There also appears to be a practice of ‘double reporting,’ in which detailed information is provided to the State Treasurer but kept secret from the Legislature and the public.”

The overall recovery effort continues to leave storm victims shortchanged and feeling abandoned, Sweeney said. New Jersey has received $3.3 billion in federal community block grants but only $535 million has gotten into the hands of homeowners, renters and municipalities, according to the Sandy Recovery “Dashboard,” which tracks disbursements. Renters and low-income families have not received needed help, the rejection rate has been far too high, and there are reports of the state taking money back from those who received it and spent it.

“The administration will say that grants are in the pipeline but there is a big difference between being in the pipeline and victims being back in their homes,” said Senator Sweeney. “We’re two years down the road and far too many people are feeling abandoned. We can do better.”

Sweeney said questions remain about the geographic distribution of the aid, with too little going to the communities hardest hit while other areas that sustained little damage receiving disproportionately larger amounts.

A recent poll of the residents hardest hit by the storm found that only 1-in3 are satisfied with the state’s recovery effort to date.  The level of dissatisfaction, which includes complaints of poor communication by the state, has continued from last year, according to the Monmouth University Poll released on Tuesday. (http://www.monmouth.edu/university/monmouth-university-poll-reports.aspx) Sweeney: Hurricane Sandy victims still don’t have answers