Sandy Nightmare Still Exists for Some NJ Residents [AUDIO]
If you were looking to hear how New Jersey is "Stronger than the Storm," yesterday's joint hearing of the State Senate and Assembly Environment Committees was not the place for you.
Lawmakers heard horror story after horror story and the two top Christie Administration officials who were invited to testify did not show up.
The Garden State is almost one year past the storm and rapidly approaching hurricane season. The committees learned yesterday that the hard reality is many residents are no closer to returning to their homes today than they were last November. The Sandy rebuilding progress has stalled for many affected by the storm.
"We've been treated like criminals basically, like we're trying to get something for nothing when we're just trying to get the insurance money that we initially thought was due us," says Kathleen Fisher whose Ventnor City home was flooded by Sandy. "You just basically felt like a criminal through the whole experience just trying to rebuild a house."
After one Democrat on the committee complained that nobody from Gov. Chris Christie's office was there to answer questions, a Republican pointed out that many of the issues raised had to do with federal programs. It was then explained that the state was in charge of administering some programs too.
"Anybody that came to inspect our home, be it from the SBA (Small Business Administration), or FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) they were all from out of state, none of them wanted to be there and they all made sure they told us that," explained Fisher. "The biggest issue that I found through this entire experience was that nobody showed any kind of compassion."
Others who testified yesterday want state lawmakers to hold insurers and lenders accountable for paying out what they should. Joanne Gwin of Toms River got $101,000 on a $250,000 flood insurance policy.
"Why can't the insurance companies write us a check for the policy we paid for?" Gwin asked. "We have a need for that money and we only received 40 percent of what we need to rebuild our home."
The two Christie Administration officials invited to testify were Dept. of Community Affairs commissioner, Richard Constable and Marc Ferzan, director of the Gov.'s Office of Recovery and Rebuilding.
"The longer New Jersey residents are made to jump through hoops, battle bureaucracies and red tape, the longer it will be before New Jersey's shoreline communities have a chance to rebuild," says Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee Chair L. Grace Spencer. "Commissioner Constable's absence at this hearing only supports the emotional accounts of frustration and indifference we have heard from residents. There are questions of accountability and inefficiency in the grant program which have been raised that deserve answers."
The head of the Housing and Community Development Network feels Sandy survivors are stuck in a bureaucratic nightmare and she's disappointed nobody from Christie's office was in attendance yesterday.
"We have testified along with affected residents and community leaders at the two previous hearings in Atlantic City and Jersey City," says Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey Executive Director Staci Berger.
"I have to ask, why are the government officials responsible for rebuilding programs, especially the RREM program, not here today - and why have they never come to answer these concerns and articulate the changes they will make to get these funds out the door?