Time to address delays in Sandy Relief funds

As most New Jerseyan’s are painfully aware, we’re fast approaching the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy’s devastating blow to the Jersey Shore. Nearly as devastating has been the troubling mismatch between the rhetoric of politicians devoted to helping out residents affected by the storm, and the delay in resources that would enable them to do so.

As noted by the Press of Atlantic City, as of Sept. 30, not a single dollar from the main $600 million Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program (RREM) for reconstruction grants has been disbursed. Not one cent, despite receiving 12,254 applications and deeming 3,497 of them eligible to receive funds. What’s the hold up?

Governor Christie, who has been a vocal advocate about getting money to those affected by the storm, nevertheless has fought to keep people in the dark about the criteria and process for determining who receives funds. A lawsuit was filed earlier this month in state Superior Court to force the Department of Community Affairs to provide the criteria it uses to dole out hundreds of millions of dollars in rebuilding grant funding.

“What is the big secret around why some of the most impacted victims of Sandy are getting turned down for rebuilding money?,” FSHC Staff Attorney Adam Gordon said in a statement. “The documents that the Christie Administration is using to evaluate who gets money and who does not should be public. No more excuses, no more secrets.”

There was also that business of Christie awarding a $25 million contract to an advertising firm influential in Trenton in a haphazard, quasi-election ad veiled as an attempt to bring tourists to the Shore. “Strong than the Storm,” you might have heard it? Reports indicate the Christie administration spent $2 million more on the campaign to secure a role for him and his wife in the ad, instead of, I don’t know, mentioning the Shore towns tourists should come visit.

To make matters worse, the government shutdown could seriously harm other recovery efforts, putting a halt to everything from beach inspections by the Army Corps of Engineers to furloughed HUD employees not able to approve new Sandy funds. And as tropical storm season begins, it’s reassuring that FEMA employees are sitting at home, unpaid, because House Republicans like Scott Garrett don’t like Obamacare.

By the way – know how many public forums Garrett has held on Obamacare? A grand total of zero.

So all in all, bureaucratic bumbling, political infighting and Christie’s quest for national acclaim have driven us to the point where 51-year-old Air Force employee Joanne Gwin continues to wait to find out if she’ll get a grant to help her repair and return to her flooded Toms River home.

“We are being left to throw our hands up in the air,” Gwin told the Wall Street Journal. At least she’s still receiving a paycheck, for now.

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Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. Check out more of his work at RobTornoe.com, and follow him on Twitter @RobTornoe

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