In 2012, Hurricane Sandy damaged or destroyed 40,500 homes in New Jersey. Yet, as of January 2015, only 328 homes have been rebuilt, according to the Asbury Park Press . Area residents affected by the disaster and who are still living in uninsulated travel trailers are fed up with the state’s broken rebuilding program and the effects of poor communication .
Federal aid to help with storm recovery now totals $502 million, but New Jersey’s rebuilding initiative – known as Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) – is failing to effectively get those displaced by the storm back into a home.
A litany of issues exists with the program. Confusing rules change frequently, forms are often lost and must be resubmitted, and misunderstandings have led to the deduction of grant funds meant to help homeowners rebuild.
Homeowners are incredibly frustrated. For instance, resident Frances Accardi received $150,000 from the RREM program. She agreed to participate in the demolition program only after state officials assured her no money would be deducted for the service. But it was only after the home's leveling that the state informed Accardi that the rules had changed, and that $17,700 had been deducted.
Then there's the Toms River area of New Jersey, which experienced overwhelming flooding during Hurricane Sandy. Advocacy groups fear the area may deal with the same headache as parts of Louisiana after 2005's Hurricane Katrina. In that situation, some 18,000 affected homes that received federal grants to rebuild after the hurricane have since been deemed not in compliance. In response, the federal government is now seeking $522 million in repayment from the state.
What would help Hurricane Sandy victims get back on their feet and rebuild? At a minimum, a system based on a clear plan that's well communicated and easy to understand for all those affected.
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