Wed08162017

Last updateWed, 16 Aug 2017 8am

Politics

Sweeney’s “Sandy Bill of Rights” Could Help Victims of Storm Get Answers Regarding Aid Application

NJ Senate President Steven Seeney pushed for his Sandy Bill of Rights. This bill is supposed to help with several things including, creating a clearer explanation of what is needed to be eligible for Sandy relief programs, the right to know the status of your relief application, the right to know why your application has been rejected, and the right to appeal if your application has been rejected on Feb. 19th.

In an article from the News 12 New Jersey website, Sweeny said, “As the governor, you’re responsible for what happens here,” He continued. “He’s responsible for this program, and it is a failure.”

There are communities all over New Jersey are still rebuilding from the storm. It seems like it was only yesterday NJ Governor, Chris Christie, was working side by side with President Obama in effort to rebuild the damage that was done to the state. Volunteers from New Jersey and around the country were helping in the recovery effort and helping others in need. So what is going on now?

Across the state, there are still residents that have not been able to move back into their homes. Other residents are still awaiting relief money. So who is to blame? Could it be Governor Christie or the Federal Government? Is it FEMA or the insurance companies? No matter whose fault it is, the bottom line is that the people of New Jersey want answers.

The importance of this bill is that it focuses on the disorganization of the Sandy recover effort. Many New Jersey residents have been left unaware of their relief status.

Sophomore communication and political science major, Samantha Barnwell talked about the damage of her home in Oceanport from the storm.

She said, “We had four feet of water in our house and trees in our front yard had fallen over. Our cars were filled with water and completely totaled due to flood damage.”

She said that fortunately she was able to move back in to her home in June of 2013 but when asked about the status of relief she said, “We were told there was no money for us to lift our house. This went for everyone in my area who was told lifting their house would be covered.” 

She continued, “This is extremely irritating as we just finally finished our house and it is still at risk to be flooded again.”

Barnwell’s situation was just one of the many examples of the lack of consistency and organization in the recovery of Superstorm Sandy. Patrick Murray, the Director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute and who is actually the professor of the class “Sandy and the Political and Social Impact,” had Senate President Sweeney and Congressman Frank Pallone as guest speakers in his class to talk about Sandy recovery.

He explained that the Monmouth University Polling Institute is the only survey research operation that has been tracking victims of Sandy.

Murray said, “We have found that victims are stuck in the process and getting more frustrated as each day goes by without any clear indication of if or when they will get help. Fully two-thirds are dissatisfied with the state’s recovery efforts.  It really doesn’t matter where you live, from Little Ferry to Brigantine, if you suffered significant damage from the storm and are reliant on government assistance to rebuild, you are stuck.”

He continued, “Up until now these voices have been largely unheard by the rest of the state who have seen boardwalks being rebuilt and other shore amenities coming back on line.”

Murray did say that Christie’s approval ratings have been falling. “Our statewide polling has shown that while NJ’s opinion of Christie administration recovery efforts is still positive, it has dropped significantly over the past few months,” according to Murray.

The poll depicted that among the New Jersey residents that applied for the reNew Jersey Stronger Program, which is a federally funded relief assistance program, just 36 percent of the residents were satisfied with the states recovery effort while 64 percent were not.

Murray added, “One of the big issues is communication. Aid applicants simply don’t know where they stand in the process.  This is where the Sandy Bill of Rights comes in.  The legislature can do little to move the aid process along.  That rests solely in the hands of the governor.  However, they can try to make the recovery process more transparent, to let people know their place in line and how long before they expect to get to the top of the list.”

He continued, “Sen. Steve Sweeney, the sponsor of this legislation was a guest in my Superstorm Sandy special topics class and talked about the bill. His view was that the state has not served these victims well and the least we could do is give them more information about the process, including a clear definition of what documents they need to complete the process.”

Sweeney’s bill will hopefully give some clarity as to what is going on but it is really hard to pinpoint the federal and state roles of recovery.

Lecturer of political science, Gregory Bordelon, added some insight about the federal, state, and local governmental roles in the relief effort.

When asked about the federal government’s role he said “I would say that the level of destruction that Sandy incurred definitely triggers federal authority.  The federal government is willing to assist the states in our federal system when the states are dealing with (or about to deal with) a situation that can be best addressed by the federal government resources. This is why the Executive Branch of the U.S. government declares federal emergencies, to begin the regulatory process of sending in assistance (money, aide, perhaps military assistance) to the states.”

He added that he would not necessarily blame the federal or state governments because they both have to shoulder the responsibility of distributing money for aid which should take time.

He added, “It is now somewhat controversial that much of the federal aid promised has not reached homeowners in New Jersey, particularly those hardest hit.”

As for the states responsibility, Bordelon said, “The states are ‘on the front lines’ of recovery, so to speak as they are the governmental entity responsible for the state residents’ safety.  States and their political subdivisions (towns, counties, boroughs, etc.), deal with all of the municipal maintenance that we need, from the mundane like snow plowing to the significant like rebuilding after natural disasters.”

The Sandy Bill of Rights will hopefully give the residents of New Jersey a better understanding of their relief status and their options. This bill will be one act out of the many that will probably be needed to solve this situation in NJ.

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