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FEMA Funding for Sandy Recovery Will Top $1 Billion in New Jersey

Aid already distributed by federal agency for cleanup and rebuilding nears $500 million

The Federal Emergency Management Agency expects to pay New Jersey counties, municipalities, school districts, nonprofits and other agencies more than $1.1 billion in superstorm Sandy-related expenses, new data shows.

Posted by the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, the accounting shows FEMA has so far paid about $494 million, or 43 percent of what it has pledged for debris removal, building and property repairs and other work needed in the wake of the October 2012 storm that devastated the state.

The federal government agreed to pay 90 percent of eligible expenses, instead of the 75 percent of public assistance projects it usually pays, because federal disaster aid to the state exceeded the threshold of $133 per resident.

In total, 1,318 governmental agencies, schools and nonprofits had almost $1.3 billion in eligible expenses.

Through the Public Assistance program, FEMA reimburses municipalities, county governments and eligible private nonprofit agencies for the repair or replacement of damaged roads and bridges, water-control facilities, public buildings and their contents, publicly-owned utilities, and parks and recreation areas. It also includes funds for emergency services and eligible debris-removal costs related to the disaster.

Municipal and school officials have said that the public assistance grants have been invaluable in preventing large property tax increases that would have been needed to cover the post-Sandy cleanup and rebuilding.

Toms River, near Sandy's ground zero, had received about half of the $20.2 million obligated by FEMA as of April 12, according to the OEM data. Not surprisingly, eight of the nine municipalities due to receive more than $10 million are along the Shore, with the ninth, Elizabeth, bordering Newark Bay.

According to FEMA, about 3 of every 10 public assistance requests qualified as a large project, meaning it had damage costs greater than $68,500. There were about 5,000 public assistance projects in the state.

The most common requests for assistance were:

  • 892, totaling $113 million, for emergency protective measures, including warnings, rescues and security;

  • 714, totaling $487 million, for debris removal;

  • 223, totaling $4.5 million, for donations, including food, water and ice.

In addition to the emergency protective measures and debris removal, the most expensive requests were:

  • $30 million, to two applicants, for emergency responder accommodations;

  • $29.9 million, to eight applicants, for boardwalk repairs;

  • $19 million for the Atlantic Highlands harbor marina piers.

Last month, Doug Westermann, public assistance branch chief of the FEMA New Jersey Sandy Recovery Field Office, said New Jersey was ahead of schedule on closing out projects, given the magnitude of the disaster.

“This has really only been made possible by the efforts put forth with the State OEM and our Sandy Recovery Office to move forward and not delay the process,” Westermann said.

The closeout process begins when a project is funded and completed. The applicant must certify to the state, which administers the grants for FEMA, that the work is finished and all of the allocated money was spent. A final inspection report, which includes a reconciliation of costs for the work performed, is completed and once it is reviewed, the project can be closed.

As of March 31, Westermann said, FEMA has received 63 projects from the state that were ready to be closed. Applicants have six months to complete emergency projects and 18 months for permanent projects.

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