MANASQUAN – Surrounded by advocates and victims of Superstorm Sandy, Senate President Steve Sweeney today announced that the Legislature will attempt to override the governor’s veto of his “Sandy Bill of Rights” legislation. The override attempt will be a coordinated effort between legislators, the Housing & Community Development Network of NJ, New Jersey Citizen Action, the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, and other advocate communities.
“The governor’s veto was just another step in what has been a series of blunders by his administration during the recovery process,” said Sweeney. “I traveled around the state along with the recovery advocates and heard directly from the people impacted on what they needed. First and foremost was that they just wanted answers to their questions. The bill of rights does that, so why anyone would be against that kind of transparency is beyond me.”
The announcement took place at the Manasquan home of Matthew and Jennifer Toole. The Tooles, including their eight children, were forced out of their home after the storm and have not been able to return since. They had their first meeting regarding RREM funding in July of last year and were immediately told they were being placed on the waiting list, but were given no reason why. Also taking part was Gina Pharo, owner of Pharo’s Corner Store in Manasquan, who has had similar difficulties with the recovery process.
“Matthew and Jennifer’s story is a perfect example of why the bill of rights is needed,” said Staci Berger, President and CEO of the Housing & Community Development Network of NJ. “The governor’s veto was misguided and will only serve to delay the help and assistance that people need. Working together with Senate President Sweeney and other advocates, we will let legislators know how important it is that we override this veto and put the ‘Sandy Bill of Rights’ into action immediately.”
The “Sandy Bill of Rights” passed both houses of the Legislature by a combined vote of 106-0. The bill, which was vetoed by the governor last week, would do several things, including requiring a plain language explanation of what is needed to be eligible and to apply for Sandy recovery programs; the right to know where your relief application stands and what additional information is needed; the right to know why your application was rejected or why you were placed on a waiting list and the right to appeal a denial of funding.
“I cannot imagine how anyone could not be in favor of overriding the governor’s veto, especially since no one objected to the bill of rights when we voted on it,” added Sweeney. “Legislators who do not support this effort, especially those who represent the families that are still struggling to get the answers and information they need, are going to have to look those folks in the eye and tell them why they don’t support giving them assistance and a transparent process.”
Media accounts and advocacy groups have reported various problems in the Sandy aid process. For example, some families were being told they would lose their aid for failure to provide certain documents, while others were given no such ultimatum. In other instances, numbers show that funding has been denied at higher rates for African American and Latino residents despite being equally hard hit by the storm.
A line of victims told a legislative committee that a state contractor responsible for getting people back in their homes had repeatedly lost their applications and often couldn’t answer the most basic of questions. The Christie administration quietly cancelled the contract with this firm, and state officials said little about how they will proceed with this critical task.