By MaryAnn Spoto
Millions of dollars in additional federal aid to help Hurricane Sandy victims rebuild could be in New Jersey in a couple weeks, two federal lawmakers said today as they vowed to find ways to make more homeowners eligible for reimbursement for work they've already done.
A second round of money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development could be released to New Jersey as early as mid-August to help homeowners who haven't been able to get a share of the first allotment.
In April, HUD released $1.8 billion to New Jersey, the first of what is expected to be four allocations totaling more than $4 billion in federal Sandy aid for housing.
"There is a new tranche (share) of money that will be announced in the next couple of weeks and depending upon legitimate demand, there will be consideration for future tranches," Sen. Bob Menendez said.
Also this week, HUD started allowing homeowners to be reimbursed for work done to repair and elevate their homes. Until that policy reversal, HUD prohibited reimbursement for work done before homeowners applied for the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation grants.
Despite the reversal, it's still unclear whether there will be enough money for reimbursements in that program because much of that $600 million in RREM money has already been promised to homeowners who haven't started work.
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.) said the new round of funding due mid-month should address that.
"We're going to get another round of funding in the next few weeks so those people will have enough money," Pallone said.
But the Hazard Mitigation program, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to elevate homes, also prohibits grants to homeowners who have started work.
Menendez said he's trying to see how that can be reversed, but noted it will most likely involve legislative action rather than administrative action.
"FEMA has a legislative bar against doing that," he said. "So I'm looking at what is the language that bars them and seeing if we can get a fix."
Menendez and Pallone met earlier today with officials and media at the Bayshore Regional Sewerage Authority in Union Beach to discuss the progress of disbursing federal Sandy aid. The sewerage authority, which serves eight towns on the Bayshore in Monmouth County, so far has received $4 million of the $20 million in aid it needs to make major repairs from the Oct. 29 storm.
Menendez said that at a meeting earlier this week between some federal lawmakers and HUD secretary Shaun Donovan, he expressed displeasure at how long it's taken federal aid to reach homeowners.
Menendez said that in asking Donovan about the financial aid delays, Donovan said the state has been "largely overwhelmed" with devising and operating the programs to disburse the money but is working hard to streamline the process.
"I raised the concern that I've heard from many New Jerseyans that recovery money for them just isn't getting out fast enough," Menendez said.
Pallone said he's also asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which conducts beach protection projects, to reconsider projects it had rejected in towns like Perth Amboy and Woodbridge because they weren't considered cost effective at the time.
"The bottom line is, if global warming is happening, these floods, unfortunately, and storms are likely to get worse," he said. "There were projects that were turned down before for some cost-benefit analysis that need to be looked at again.