TRENTON – Senate President Steve Sweeney’s legislation establishing a “Sandy Bill of Rights” to help victims of Superstorm Sandy get the aid, assistance and answers they need cleared the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee today.
“It’s abundantly clear that the Sandy recovery effort has been riddled with mistakes and errors,” said Sweeney. “We should not be going around and blaming the federal government. Instead, we need to work on fixing the problems that are happening here in New Jersey. The ‘Sandy Bill of Rights’ will correct many of these problems. People want answers, not finger pointing.”
As part of building public awareness of the many problems that have plagued the recovery effort, the Senate President has traveled across the state to meet with individuals and families who have failed to get the information they need. He has been in Perth Amboy, TomsRiver, Moonachie, Linden, and will be in Keansburg at 1 p.m. this Thursday.
“Traveling across the state has shown me that, while the locations change, the problems are all the same. People have not been able to get even the simplest of answers. They don’t know where they stand on the waiting list, they don’t know why they were rejected for funding, and they don’t know who can provide them these answers. This simply cannot be allowed to continue,” said Sweeney.
The bill of rights, S1306, 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.
Recent 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. Only 4% of available funding has been distributed.
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 have said little about how they will proceed with this critical task.
The legislation now heads to the Senate floor.