TRENTON – Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) introduced legislation designed to increase the efficiency, transparency and accountability in the disbursement of aid to the tens of thousands of New Jerseyans whose lives were upended by Superstorm Sandy.
“It has been more than two years since Congress passed Sandy aid and we still have at least 15,000 families waiting to rebuild,” Senator Sweeney said. “The problems with the Sandy relief programs are well-documented and the people who have been hurt are residents whose homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. They were victims of the storm and then they were victimized by the aid process.”
Senator Sweeney, whose “Sandy Bill of Rights” was vetoed by the Governor last year, said his new bill would require the state Department of Community Affairs to provide an individualized timeline for each homeowner showing when they can expect to receive assistance through the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) program.
“Those who have been trying to get the help they need to put their lives back together need to know where their applications are in the process, how much aid they’re going to get, and when they’re going to get it,” said Senator Sweeney. “This legislation will help make government more responsive by bringing more transparency and accountability to the process.”
Under the legislation, the Department of Community Affairs would be required to publish that information on an easy-to-access website so that homeowners can follow the progress of their paperwork.
Senator Sweeney’s bill would also require the DCA to set quarterly goals for the distribution of Sandy aid and to report to the governor and the Legislature on whether unused federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Relief funds can be reallocated to assist families who need the help.
“Too many victims are still forced to wade through piles of paperwork from FEMA, the state and insurance companies. They have different caseworkers from various agencies involved in the recovery, which adds to the confusion and the difficulty. They deserve real answers and real help.”
Bill Fact Sheet
The Sweeney bill requires the Department of Community Affairs to:
I. TIMELINE & GOALS
a) Establish a timeline providing general estimation of the time in which an applicant can expect to receive assistance.
b) The department must provide to each RREM program applicant, an individualized timeline based upon the applicant’s individual application.
c) Establish quarterly goals for distributing Superstorm Sandy aid.
d) Publish the timelines and its funding goals on an Internet website, so the concerned residents of this State can track the department’s progress with the disbursement of aid money.
a) The Website will include other relevant information concerning recovery and rebuilding programs
b) Webpage will allow verified residents to create an account with the website to track the status of an application for assistance through a recovery and rebuilding program.
c) The Internet website will also include:
1) A plain language explanation of every recovery and rebuilding program available to residents impacted by Superstorm Sandy;
2) A comprehensive list of all pending and completed appeals to the department concerning its disbursement of Superstorm Sandy aid money;
3) A list of builders in the qualified contractor pool;
4) The status of any projects awarded to builders in the qualified contractor pool that involve Sandy aid money;
5) A description of how Sandy aid has been distributed; and
6) A full explanation of the criteria and process through which the department distributes assistance from recovery and rebuilding programs.
a) Bill requires the Commissioner of DCA to report to the Governor and the Legislature regarding the allocation of CDBG Disaster Recovery funds and other funds that may be available for relief efforts associated with Superstorm Sandy.
b) The Commissioner must evaluate and determine the extent to which the department may provide unused CDBG Disaster Recovery funds and other funds that may be available for similar purposes to persons, who have submitted an application for assistance that is still pending before the department.
c) The bill requires the Commissioner to submit a report to the Governor and Legislature regarding whether the use of CDBG Disaster Recovery and other funds that may be available for relief efforts associated with Superstorm Sandy for interim assistance is appropriate.
d) The report must include information concerning the total need for interim assistance among persons who have submitted an application for assistance that is still pending before the department and how the department intends to satisfy that need.