Jody Stewart still gets calls from folks who lost a home to 2012's Superstorm Sandy, saying they've received letters in the mail or a phone calls requesting they repay thousands of dollars that were awarded to them through grant programs in order to rebuild.

Many of these individuals still dealing with so-called clawbacks can't afford to repay, and the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't made the prospect of repayment any easier.

"We need closure now. Sandy survivors need to be able to say, 'Enough,'" said Stewart, community organizer with New Jersey Organizing Project.

So the grassroots group was pleased to hear about the introduction of federal legislation by U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, chair of the Sandy Task Force, that would forgive debt owed to the federal government by municipalities and homeowners still bouncing back from Sandy and other disasters.

Under the Security After Sandy Act, which is getting companion legislation in the House of Representatives, recoupment efforts for debt owed to the federal government, in relation to major declared disasters between 2006 and 2020, would have to stop — unless it's suspected the funds were obtained fraudulently.

"As New Jerseyans and the communities they call home struggle to flatten the curve and fight this pandemic, the last thing they should have to worry about is facing federal government clawbacks from the assistance they needed to recover from a previous natural disaster like Superstorm Sandy," Menendez said.

The measure would also forgive all Community Disaster Loans made to municipalities from January 1, 2016 to January 1, 2020, which includes all of the program's loans related to the storm that made landfall in New Jersey on October 29, 2012.

According to the New Jersey Organizing Project, which was founded by nine storm survivors in 2014, the federal legislation would keep hundreds of millions of dollars here in the Garden State. Many families have been asked to repay funds due to a supposed duplication of benefits.

A press release including comment from Menendez, Rep. Andy Kim and Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. said clawback attempts blindsided many survivors because it was under the guidance of officials that many residents apply for loans and benefits offered by various programs, without clear guidance on repayment terms.

"Thousands of Sandy survivors are trying just to become whole, for closure on their recovery, and they cannot because they're being clawed back," Stewart said.

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