Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo has introduced legislation to make the distribution of Superstorm Sandy recovery and rebuilding aid funds more efficient and transparent.
“For many Sandy victims – families who already suffered tremendous loss during the storm – navigating applications for recovery aid and trying to avoid foreclosure has yielded nothing but additional stress and discouragement,” said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “This bill will codify and expand upon standards and safeguards for the treatment of those seeking Sandy aid and make the efficient, expedient distribution of funds a priority.”
The bill (A-4316) would require the Department of Community Affairs to establish within 30 days of the legislation’s enactment a timeline setting forth a general estimation of when recovery aid applicants can expect to receive assistance. The timeline would be based upon the department’s past experience administering funds through recovery programs.
Under the legislation, Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program (RREM) applicants would receive timelines setting forth: when to expect 50 percent of grant money, when to expect 100 percent of grant money, when to expect a construction or elevation project to be completed and when to expect a final certificate of occupancy and grant closeout. The department would also develop special targets for the RREM program that, at minimum, provide for all applicants to receive 50 percent or more of funding by Oct. 29, 2015 and to have construction and elevation projects completed by Oct. 29, 2016.
“Reasons for the delays may vary, but at the very least, the state has an obligation to communicate clearly with Sandy victims and make the process of obtaining benefits as user-friendly and transparent as possible,” said Mazzeo. “New Jersey residents deserve better than the non-answers and indefinite waiting periods of the past two years.”
The measure also would require the department to develop within 60 days of the bill’s enactment a searchable, interactive webpage that allows residents to view individualized timelines and track the department’s progress with the disbursement of aid money. Under the bill, verified residents would be permitted to create online accounts to track the status of an application for assistance.
The webpage also would present other relevant information regarding Sandy recovery, including:
– a plain language explanation of every recovery and rebuilding program available to residents impacted by Superstorm Sandy;
– a comprehensive list of all pending and completed appeals to the department concerning its disbursement of Superstorm Sandy aid money;
– a list of builders in the qualified contractor pool;
– the status of any projects awarded to builders in the qualified contractor pool that involve Sandy aid money;
– a description of how Sandy aid has been distributed; and
– a full explanation of the criteria and process through which the department distributes assistance from recovery and rebuilding programs.
The bill also would require the commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs to submit a report to the governor and the legislature regarding the allocation of Sandy relief funds within 30 days of the measure’s enactment. The commissioner would evaluate and determine the extent to which the department may provide unused Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds and other funds that may be available to applicants for assistance as interim assistance for mortgage payments and rent.
More than 250,000 New Jersey residents have sought governmental assistance since the storm, which resulted in more than $36 billion in damage and recovery needs, Mazzeo noted.
The bill was referred to the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee.