New Jersey Residents Tangled In Red Tape One Year After Hurricane Sandy

Author: October 29, 2013 8:02 pm
Hurricane Sandy aid still hasn't reached New Jersey residents. NJ Governor Chris Christie comforts Hurricane Sandy victims.

One year after Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey, residents still feel the pain and face cruel and needless roadblocks. How long must they wait for their aid? Shown here in photo: NJ Governor Chris Christie comforts Hurricane Sandy victims shortly after the storm.

Tuesday, October 29th marks the one year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy making landfall in New Jersey. The storm was the most destructive and deadly storm of the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season. The hurricane takes the top spot as the largest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic ocean, spanning 1,100 miles. Sandy was also the second most costliest storm in U.S. history, causing over $65 billion in damage. This is a number only surpassed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  As a result of the storm, 160 people lost their lives and destroyed thousands of homes. Although the storm effected twenty-four states, New Jersey’s Hurricane Sandy victims seem to be feeling the most pain a year later.

What is going on with Hurricane Sandy aid in New Jersey?

Sadly for the people of New Jersey, putting their lives back together has not been easy. There have been delays every step of the way and many people are still without answers. If you remember, congress didn’t even pass a relief package for Hurricane Sandy victims until January 2013.  Why was that? Oh yes, because Republicans were playing politics with the disaster aid.

Right out of the gate storm victims were screwed. The do-nothing Congress did exactly that: nothing. They did nothing for two months while people in states devastated by Hurricane Sandy were forced to wait.

So, in January when President Obama signed a $50.5 billion relief package into law and states were told to submit plans for the money, victims were hopeful. The Hurricane Sandy victims hopes were soon dashed.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disbursed more than $1.4 in relief aid for expenses in the immediate aftermath of the storm to people in five states. However, the money for home rebuilding is a different fund. That money, $600 million (for NJ)  from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is all tied up in red tape.

New Jersey citizens began filling out applications to receive grant money, and then bureaucracy happened. So far only 130 applicants were able to complete their requests, and their federal aid has not been doled out yet. Although Jersey claims it will reach these applicants by the end of the month.

The state’s Department of Community Affairs said another 200 can expect their grant signings through the end of this month, and more than 3,000 are still awaiting their letters. An additional 4,000 are still waiting to find out whether they will be approved at all, an answer that hinges on whether the federal government releases additional aid money. [SOURCE]

“How long do you wait? It’s a year, I’m done.” — Joann Peperoni, Hurricane Sandy victim

New Jersey has only disbursed roughly $3 million of the $600 million it received and citizens of the state are angry. The Peperoni family told NBC News that they are giving up and paying for their house themselves, but they doubt they will even have enough to finish it. The family said they applied for a Hurricane Sandy grant in May but have been put on a waiting list for the funds.

The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs said that 4,200 of the 15,100 hurricane Sandy victims who have applied have been approved and expect more money this month. They also said the reason the process is so slow-moving is because of all the fraud-proof hoops homeowners have to jump through to be approved in the first place. The state wanted to be sure there wasn’t massive fraud like there was in the wake of hurricane Katrina.

That does little to help the families hurt by Hurricane Sandy, who continue to suffer now.

New Jersey citizens faced fraud from another source.

In February the New Jersey Attorney General’s office filed a lawsuit suing the operators of the Hurricane Sandy Relief Foundation and its operators.  John Sandberg and Christina Terraccino were accused of diverting more than $17,000 in donated money for personal use. The Attorney General’s office said they used the money to eat out, shop online, and pay credit card bills while only handing out $1,650 in aid. The group raised $631,000 in cash donations through its website sandyrelief.org and nearly $39,000 of the money was still unaccounted for when the suit was filed.

“This organization told the state it does not pay its executives, but our investigators found a paper trail reflecting thousands of dollars being transferred into the individual defendants’ personal bank accounts,” Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said in a prepared statement. “Meanwhile, less than 1% of the money raised has allegedly been paid out to help the victims of Sandy.” [SOURCE]

Lovely people they are, nothing more moral than pulling on people’s heartstrings to scam money. For New Jersey victims, the scam was just one more punch in the gut. They have to fight the government to get relief aid, fight scammers and fight insurance companies as well.

One year later victims still fighting insurance companies.

A year after the flood waters have receded many homeowners are fighting insurance companies for reimbursement. The homeowners claim that they were shortchanged-some thousands of dollars- by errors from insurance adjusters. In the aftermath of the storm companies brought in adjusters from all over the country to handle claims. The problem is that the adjuster relied too heavily on computer programs to factor the costs of repairs and not enough on experience.

One New Jersey couple, John Lambert and Lee Ann Newland,said the adjusters mistake means they have to stop rebuilding. The adjuster who came out to inspect the flood damage left by the storm forgot to factor in sales tax for drywall, flooring and a boiler. His mistake cost the couple $11,000.

They are not alone, victims from all of the states hit by Hurricane Sandy are repeating similar stories. Insurance companies deny that there are a lot of claims falling short. They say that if the homeowners can prove they were shortchanged, another check will be sent out to cover the costs.

Unfortunately that brings little comfort to the people who have been waiting a year to move on with their lives. There is a seemingly endless amount of roadblocks that are preventing them from moving forward. It is as if Hurricane Sandy is hitting them again and again and again and there is no end in sight.

The victims of the storm are no longer drowning in flood waters, instead they are drowning in bureaucracy and all of the red tape that comes along with it. They are being taken advantage of by scammers. Their insurance companies are epically screwing up and these are all things that should be prevented. While much progress has been made for businesses it seems little progress has been made at putting these people back in their own homes.

Let’s hope that next year, on the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, we will have a more positive update.

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