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Senator Sweeney speaks during press conference on NJ Dream Act

KEANSBURG – Senate President Steve Sweeney continued his “Sandy Bill of Rights” tour today with a stop in Keansburg. The tour is intended to bring attention to the needs of victims of Superstorm Sandy nearly 16 months after the storm hit New Jersey.

The Senate President stopped at the BayshoreSeniorCenter, where he was joined by Congressman Frank Pallone, local officials, advocates and victims of the storm.  Last fall, Rolling Stone listed Keansburg as the top town still suffering from Sandy devastation, with homelessness a chronic issue.

“Keansburg is a prime example of how badly the recovery effort has been botched,” said Sweeney.  “People are still not back in their homes.  They are stuck on waiting lists or being denied funding for no stated reason. It is everything the ‘Sandy Bill of Rights’ is looking to correct.”

Three percent of Keansburg’s 13,889 population sought housing recovery help, but less than 1 percent have been approved. Forty four percent of the town’s RREM applicants have been placed on waiting list without knowing why or where they are in line.

The Senate President also discussed his plan of action that calls for more assistance to homeowners and renters during the second phase of Sandy recovering funding.  The plan was submitted to the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) earlier this month.  It presents a three pronged approach that focuses on treating renters and owners fairly, distributing resources equitably and ensuring transparency through every step of the process. It utilizes Community Resource Recovery Centers to help with disbursement of aid and to act as resource guides for victims of the storm.

“The ‘Sandy Bill of Rights’ combined with the plan Senate President Sweeney has submitted to the DCA can alleviate so many of the problems we have seen with the Sandy recovery effort,” said Staci Berger, President and CEO of the Housing & Community Development Network of NJ. “The Bill of Rights and the second round plan focus squarely on getting people back in their homes and getting them answers. It’s what the administration’s goal should have been all along.”

Last month, Senate President Sweeney introduced legislation that would establish a “Sandy Bill of Rights.” The bill of rights 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.