With the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy fast approaching, it’s still the subject of Assembly and Senate hearings in the state. Committee members involved with the hearings are still unhappy that they have not heard from some officials, Assemblywoman Grace Spencer (D) told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider.
There have been at least four hearings and members of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration were invited but did not show up, Spencer said.
“The New Jersey State Assembly and Senate Environment committees have hosted four hearings across the state of New Jersey,” said Spencer. “We have invited representatives from DCA and Mark Fursan who has been appointed by the governor as the SAR of Sandy to each of these hearings and they’ve chosen not to show.”
Spencer said that members and invitees have attributed their absences to scheduling conflicts. She said that the Assembly has given notice ahead of time and with an issue as “serious as Hurricane Sandy, you make time for it.”
Spencer said if she could ask one question throughout the hearings, she would ask when the money will be distributed so people can get their lives back together.
Some money to help repair damage caused by Hurricane Sandy has been distributed, along with the rollout of the Restructuring Rehabilitation Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) program. A community block grant with a maximum of $10,000 is also available, but Spencer says that it’s not enough for individuals to get their homes and lives back.
The money coming from the RREM program is the most important funding, according to Spencer. About 3,000 out of 15,000 applicants have received awards, but there still are many displaced from the storm and not all that money has been distributed.
The Christie administration has said that it’s a HUD program and that state officials have been waiting for HUD to make it happen, which Spencer doesn’t believe.
“No, I don’t buy that because the state of New Jersey appointed an agency, an organization called Hammerman and Gainer Incorporated, to oversee the program. There are flaws in the program, people are not getting correct information as to whether or not they’ve been approved or not,” Spencer said. “People are having individuals come to their homes and arrive at one conclusion, then they get a letter saying something different, someone comes back, there’s another conclusion. It’s not exactly working.”
Spencer said that there’s an urgency in getting people back into their homes, which isn’t being appreciated.
“It’s been a year,” said Spencer. “Earlier this week we had a young woman come in to testify. She brought her son who’s autistic, highly functioning, but to hear him say, ‘I just want to go home,’ people should not still be asking to go home 359 days later.”
With Election Day approaching, there has been talk of a change in leadership in the Assembly for the Democrats if they hold on to control. A number of Democrats have expressed interest in having Vincent Prieto serve as Assembly speaker instead of Sheila Oliver. Spencer said waiting until all of the votes are counted and someone is sworn in in January is the only way to know who will be the speaker in the Assembly.