3/11/15 The story behind Christie's Iowa protesters Mark Di Ionno Star Ledger
In her last job, Amanda Devecka-Rinear's office was in an historic brick Georgian mansion on DuPont Circle in Washington D.C., with rooftop views of Embassy Row.
Her office now is in a fishing shack on Cedar Bonnet Island, with back porch views of Barnegat Bay and kitchen views of a boarded-up house across the sand-packed street.
3/11/15 Protest by Locals at Christie Appearance in Iowa Aims to Refocus Attention on N.J. Sandy Victims Jon Coen Sandpaper
It was the Sunday of the thaw. The temperature had hit 50 for the first time in weeks and much of the LBI snow was starting to melt. Just back from a whirlwind trip, Joe Mangino gazed out toward the beach from his temporary residence in Surf City.
It would be a comforting scenario if Mangino and his family weren’t still displaced from their Beach Haven West home as a result of Superstorm Sandy and his recent trip hadn’t been following Gov. Chris Christie to Iowa to ask him to “Finish the Job” of recovery that he vowed to do for the New Jersey Shore after the storm.
Mangino, an ordained minister and owner of H2Joe Powerwashing, made national headlines Saturday, March 7 when he stood up while Christie was on stage at the Iowa Agricultural Summit and shouted, “I’m from New Jersey also!”
It was the latest in a campaign by the New Jersey Organizing Project to bring attention to the state’s failure to administer support to Sandy victims in a timely manner. New Jersey earmarked $1.1 billion in federal Sandy aid for the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program aimed to rebuild and raise homes. According to the Fair Share Housing Center’s annual report, 14,880 applied for a RREM grant. But of over 12,000 families who were deemed eligible, 2,000 of them withdrew and 10,800 are still lost in what most consider a quagmire. They claim all of this is happening while Christie travels around the country setting up a probable candidacy for the 2016 presidential election.
The idea was that if Christie was going to travel around the country and forget the situation of those who have struggled the longest back home, NJOP would go to Iowa to remind him. Mangino and NJOP Director and fourth-generation Cedar Bonnet Island resident Amanda Devecka-Rinear traveled to Iowa with Lisa Stevens of Little Egg Harbor Township. As planned, they joined forces with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, which had issues with other topics at the summit.
“I was standing in line with three other protesters. All four of us had our tickets rejected,” said Stevens, “which is interesting since we had legit tickets.” She was unable to enter while Mangino and Devecka-Reinear slipped inside.
In front of a room full of media, Mangino yelled, “I will not shut up,” referencing Christie’s now famous “sit down and shut up” comment to activist Jim Keady in Belmar during a speech on the two-year anniversary of the storm. Mangino and Devecka-Rinear, holding a sign that read “Governor Christie: Thousands of Families Still Not Home After Sandy,” were promptly escorted from the summit. Their image became viral.
“We’re not just complaining. We’re offering ideas and suggestions,” Mangino explained.
Mangino’s case is somewhat of a famous one. Immediately following the storm, his family’s flooded and gutted home on William Cook Boulevard became the headquarters for armies of volunteers who began gutting over 800 damaged homes. Officials suggest these heroics saved local homeowners $4 million.
He spearheaded the nonprofit START (Stafford Teachers and Residents Together), which worked with other groups in helping to rebuild the region, and became a face of the community-based efforts of the Long Beach Island area. He has been the subject of several documentaries, sat on resiliency panel discussions in New York City and Washington, D.C., and has been speaking with state legislators about picking up Christie’s slack. There is hardly a local fundraiser that Joe Mangino does not volunteer at.
The Manginos – Joe, his wife Beckie, a teacher in the Stafford Township School District, and their daughters Sophia, 14, and Giada, 8 – stayed with friends for six months until they could move back into a half-finished home, all while weathering the next storm of insurance battles and state programs. The home was finally completed a year after the storm, but the house still had to be raised. Their RREM-approved contractor told them to move back out of their home again last November. No work has been done on their property yet.
“This is part of what’s wrong with the program. The contractor has his money guaranteed, but he has no incentive or penalty to stay on a timeline. And there’s a deadline that you have to be done with reconstruction or you’re no longer eligible,” Mangino added.
On Feb. 20, Mangino announced his intentions and set up a crowd sourcing account with a goal of $300. He raised $1,350 from supporters.
“The Go Fund Me really put the pressure on my shoulders. In no time flat, I blew away my goal. And then it felt like walking into the lion’s den.”
The current situation, however, is a far cry from when Mangino, a political independent, was invited to sit in the front row at several of Christie’s local town hall meetings in the months after the storm. Through START, he had a good relationship with the governor’s office. Christie even met with him briefly to hear concerns.
But after 2½ years and too many roadblocks to count, Mangino has become a pillar of NJOP, which protested at Christie’s State of the State address in January. The group recently renovated and took up a headquarters in a small building behind the Lighthouse Tavern in Waretown, which Jim Keady owns.
“If I had an opportunity in Iowa, I probably would have complimented Christie first on his initial response to Sandy. But then I would have hit him with where he’s fallen short,” said Mangino.
“I was literally sick to my stomach beforehand. This isn’t something I have done before. I wasn’t comfortable doing it, and I don’t want to have to do it again,” he admitted. “But I felt like I had to. The situation is desperate. One guy told me to shut up and go home ... but we literally can’t go home.”
According to Adam Gordon, staff attorney for NJ Fair Share Housing Center, the RREM program has left many in the dark. “We get calls all the time from people who can’t get basic answers. They just want some direction. They filed their claim and filled out all the proper documents, and then find out the program changed the documents or changed the requirements. Many people are paying rent and mortgage. They can’t make plans for where their families are going to live. They don’t know if they should sign another six-month lease or if they’ll be back in their houses,” he said. “We’re a nonpartisan group, but I do think it’s a really critical issue whether Christie is running for president or not. It’s something that everyone needs to focus on.”
All Eyes on Iowa ...
And Back on Jersey Shore
Mangino lost track of the amount of interviews he gave outside the summit, in Des Moines International Airport, and even on the flight home. While it is a local issue, the story has national significance as the latest in a series of news stories that show New Jersey’s dissatisfaction with Christie early in the election cycle.
“That’s not even my intention. I have a single focus. But if you’re someone looking at the candidate, his record on Sandy is one more thing you may want to question about this guy. He made a promise. I know politicians make promises all the time. But you know what? Somebody’s got to stick to something eventually.”
Folks that he spoke with in Iowa were aware of the devastation but not the ongoing saga.
“They saw the roller coaster in the ocean and then they saw the boardwalks get rebuilt so they thought everything was just peachy back here. They had no idea that only 400 families had been taken care of by our No.1 program.”
“I can’t begin to tell you how many people I spoke to who thought the Jersey Shore was all fixed and back together,” agreed Stevens.
The Manginos will be looking for another temporary home when their winter rental is up. There is currently another program that offers rent assistance for families raising their homes that they may have to research.
“$825 a month for three months,” explained Mangino. “And then you can file for an extension for another three months. $825 in New Jersey doesn’t get you much, but at least it’s something. But here’s the point. I’m not looking for a handout. If the program was run correctly, I would be back in my house and I wouldn’t need another government program.”
The rental assistance program is an example of the pressure that NJOP is applying to the state.
“NJOP is making the issue visible,” said Gordon at the NJ Fair Share Housing Center.
For the time being, Mangino’s well-timed outburst and the NJOP’s carefully planned campaign in Iowa have refocused the spotlight on Sandy survivors. The NJOP’s next meeting is Saturday, March 29 at the Lacey Township Library and all are welcome to attend.
And Mangino has to wonder if it’s only irony that his assigned contractor called him first thing on Monday morning, ready to raise the house.
3/10/15 New Jersey Still Rebuilding After Superstorm Sandy Thousands of damaged homes have yet to be fixed Heather Haddon and Josh Dawsey Wall Street Journal
3/10/15 New Jersey Still Rebuilding After Superstorm Sandy Thousands of damaged homes have yet to be fixed Heather Haddon and Josh Dawsey Wall Street Journal
As the one-year anniversary of superstorm Sandy neared in the fall of 2013, meetings inside the New Jersey Statehouse turned tense._
Some aides to Gov. Chris Christie were concerned that few houses damaged by the storm were being rebuilt. The officials were flooded with stories of computer errors, lost paperwork, inadequate staffing and problems with contractors. They were also struggling to navigate the federal bureaucracy.
“It was a disaster,” one senior official said.
Mr. Christie was praised for his initial response to Sandy, visiting hard-hit areas and promising victims that help was on the way. State officials were credited with helping most boardwalks and beaches reopen, and many businesses said the state helped them early and often.
But the housing rebuilding program is still far from finished, and the problems have hurt Mr. Christie’s popularity in parts of the state hammered by Sandy.
Lisa Stevens outside her Little Egg Harbor home, which also was damaged by Sandy. Photo: Will Figg for The Wall Street Journal
The main grant system for homeowners, the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program, or RREM, received more than 15,000 applicants when New Jersey launched it in May 2013 to distribute federal money to Sandy victims.
At the end of 2014, just 330 homes had completed their renovations through the program, according to the state’s reports to the federal government. Thousands more are in the pipeline, and it could be years before they are finished.
New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, introduced a bill Tuesday that would require the state’s department of community affairs to provide homeowners with a timeline of when they can expect to receive assistance through the reconstruction program.
State officials say they have taken steps to improve the system and that the pace has picked up. The program provides grants of up to $150,000 to homes damaged by Sandy.
Lisa Stevens, a 54-year-old Little Egg Harbor, N.J., resident, said she had a good experience with her state-appointed housing counselor, but the program’s rules have continued to change, requiring her to submit new paperwork and wait for new building designs.
Ms. Stevens in her home in Little Egg Harbor. She and other homeowners, frustrated by Sandy recovery efforts, went to Iowa on Saturday and interrupted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie during a forum there. Photo: Will Figg for The Wall Street Journal
“I consider myself an educated person. I don’t know how people in my community who are mostly seniors could figure this out,” said Ms. Stevens, whose 1,400-square-foot home faced a bay.
On Saturday, Ms. Stevens traveled to Iowa with a handful of other homeowners frustrated by the Sandy recovery efforts. They interrupted Mr. Christie’s appearance at the Iowa Agriculture Summit, a forum with other potential 2016 Republican candidates for president.
Bill Halbeisen, a 68-year-old retired school psychologist, said he applied right after the reconstruction program was announced, but has yet to receive any funding after his house in Beach Haven West was damaged by Sandy. He has lived in nine different temporary dwellings—including a houseboat—while waiting for his application to be approved and go through all the steps.
He plans to return to the houseboat in the spring while he waits for his $150,000 grant to help pay for a new home.
“You talk to one person, you get one answer. You talk to another, you get another answer,” Mr. Halbeisen said. “They aren’t good at getting back to you.”
Early in 2014, the administration removed Rich Constable, commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, from most Sandy duties and replaced him with Melissa Orsen, an official in the lieutenant governor’s office, according to people familiar with the matter.
“All of the governments involved are going through a tough time to navigate the system,” Mr. Constable said in testimony to state legislators last year.
In New York, officials have cited a thorny federal bureaucracy, saying states aren’t qualified to implement such complicated programs and that federal authorities should hand over money more quickly. Many of these officials say the framework for disaster recovery should be changed.
Fewer than 1,000 homes are finished in New York City, with more than 10,000 applicants applying. Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to speed up the recovery.
Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Mr. Christie, said the administration brought in additional staff for management and tried to streamline applications. He also acknowledged there have been a range of problems. The state is now giving some homeowners rental assistance while they try to rebuild through the RREM program.
The state now allows applicants to mail in documents rather than traveling to housing centers, some which were long drives for homeowners. It also started holding information sessions in communities damaged by Sandy. The centers are better staffed, according to the state, with more state workers taking over from contractors.
“We have tried to better the process as we’ve gone along,” Ms. Orsen said in an interview. “RREM has started taking off. We’ve made a lot of changes.”
Housing advocates and others involved in the recovery say it could take years for displaced residents to return to their homes.
Ms. Orsen was recently named head of the state’s economic development authority. Mr. Constable is expected to leave soon for a job in a private law firm. State officials haven’t said who will run the Sandy recovery programs.
Write to Joshua Dawsey at firstname.lastname@example.org and Heather Haddon at email@example.com
3/10/15 Ocean County Man Tells Gov. Christie In Iowa He Will 'Not Sit Down and Shut Up' About Hurricane SandyJoe Mangino, co-founder of the S.T.A.R.T. volunteers, turns activist to assist displaced homeowners. Steve Moran Barnegat Patch
3/10/15 Ocean County Man Tells Gov. Christie In Iowa He Will 'Not Sit Down and Shut Up' About Hurricane SandyJoe Mangino, co-founder of the S.T.A.R.T. volunteers, turns activist to assist displaced homeowners. Steve Moran Barnegat Patch
Frustrated by the fact the New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie has refused to meet with the recently formed New Jersey Organizing Project, Joe Mangino and two other NJOP members traveled to Iowa to try to approach him.
According to the their Web site, www.finishthejob.org, NJOP was formed by “Sandy survivors and concerned business owners nearly all of whom are still trying to get back home from Sea Bright down to Little Egg Harbor.”
There are still more than 10,000 eligible families waiting for their RREM (Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, & Mitigation) grants that they have qualified for and less than 400 homes have been rebuilt as of January of this year, according to NJOP.
“We were frustrated that his office kept telling us he was too busy for us” said Mangino. “We actively sought a cordial way to meet and were never given the opportunity,” he added.
The group from the beginning has been working in conjunction with the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) that campaigns “to create social, economic and environmental justice in their local communities,” according to their Web page.
“They’ve sort of taken us under their wing as we are just getting started, while they have been around 40 years or so,” he added.
Mangino said his group had already planned to travel to one of the out of state events Christie was attending to attempt to reach out.
IowaCCI then invited them to the Food and Ag Justice Summit in Des Moines held last weekend, and it seemed to be the right one, he added. The summit at the Iowa State Fairgrounds held by agri-businessman Bruce Rastetter is regarded as a “cattle-call” for hopeful Republican presidential candidates.
Iowa CCI offered to help the NJOP attendees with acquiring lodgings and tickets to the summit, Mangino said. In addition, he started a crowd funding page that raised nearly five times what they asked for in a few short days to fund the trip, he added.
The Iowa CCI Action Fund is a fiscal sponsor of the NJOP and holds any monies raised while we’re getting set up,” said NJOP founder Amanda Devecka-Rinear in a later email. “We raised our own funding for the trip and they did help by offering us space in the block of rooms they had reserved, but we paid for them,” she added.
“Mangino traveled to Iowa with Devecka-Rinear and member Lisa Stevens only to find the chances of seeing Christie nearly dashed, he said.
“The summit people were flagging all the tickets CCI had acquired and were denying the holders access,” he said.
Mangino and Devecka-Rinear managed to sneak past the checkpoint and gain access to hall which led to the confrontation with Christie, he added.
As Christie began answering a question from Rastetter, Mangino stood and shouted out that the governor had not done enough to get Sandy families back home while Devecka-Rinear held up a sign reading, “Thousands of families still not home after Sandy.”
“The man sitting in front of me turned and told me to shut up and go home, and I said to him that’s the problem, I don’t have a home to go too,” said Mangino, who has had to move his family three times since the storm.
Mangino said he then shouted “I will not sit down and shut up!” as the pair was escorted from the hall by police and Christie tried to laugh off the incident.
Mangino said his remark in reference to Christie’s commanding another Sandy activist in Belmar to sit down and shut up last October at an event commemorating the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy.
The next meeting of the NJOP will be held at the Ocean County Public Library in Lacey Township, 110 East Lacey Rd, Forked River at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Stafford Teachers and Residents Together (S.T.A.R.T.) is still working to assist Sandy victims and getting involved in other community outreach programs. For more details visit their Facebook page at:https://www.facebook.com/staffordteachersandresidentstogether
PHOTO CAPTION: Joe Mangino and Amanda Devecka-Rinea are removed from the crowd as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during the Iowa Agriculture Summit, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
3/9/15 Sandy Hecklers Dog Christie in Iowa Scott Gurian WNYC News
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has yet to announce an official run for president, but he made another trip to Iowa on Saturday to speak alongside other prospective candidates including Scott Walker, Rick Perry and Jeb Bush.
The focus of the gathering was to promote American agriculture, but several Sandy victims from New Jersey also travelled there to call attention to what they see as problems with Christie’s handling of the recovery.
While Gov. Christie was speaking, Joe Mangino -- who’s still displaced from his home in Beach Haven West -- interrupted him from the crowd.
“Governor. I live in NJ also,” said Mangino, imploring Christie to “finish the job” of the Sandy recovery.
Fellow storm victim Amanda Devecka-Rinear stood next to him holding a sign that read, “Thousands of families are still homeless!”
“Come back home!” she shouted.
“I’m glad to see that New Jersey has come to Iowa,” Christie chuckled from the stage. “My people follow me everywhere. It’s fabulous! I’m magnetic,” he joked to the event’s moderator. “They can’t stay away from me!”
Earlier this year, after the governor failed to mention the widespread frustrations with New Jersey’s ongoing Sandy recovery in his State of the State address, the Star-Ledger editorial board suggested that Sandy victims should send a delegation to Iowa and New Hampshire to spread the word.
Joe Mangino says he’s not a political person, so he never thought he’d end up chasing the governor halfway across the country.
“I don’t want to be the guy that is always talking about Sandy. I want it to go away!” he said in an interview last week. “We talk to friends, and sometimes I realize I’m saying that, and I’m like, ‘Oh, just shut up already with the Sandy stuff!’ You know? I just want to sit on my couch on a Friday night and do nothing and fall asleep at eight o'clock. I just want to get back to normal life.”
That dream remains a distant reality, though. He’s completed repairs on his home, but he can’t move back in because he’s still waiting on contractors to come elevate it. In the meantime, it sits dark and vacant. The utilities have been disconnected, and a thermostat on the wall reads 40 degrees. I don’t see an end in sight,” he said.
Mangino gave high marks to Christie in the immediate aftermath of the storm. But like many Sandy victims still out of their homes, he grew increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of progress, so a few months ago, he got together with a few others and formed a group called the New Jersey Organizing Project.
They held meetings to answer questions from other storm victims about the recovery process. They discussed their concerns with various lawmakers including Senator Menendez’s office. They also tried to arrange a meeting with the governor, but were told he was too busy, so last month, Mangino turned to a crowd-funding site on the internet to raise $300 to cover his airfare to Iowa. In less than two weeks, more than $1,300 came pouring in, some of it in the form of $50 donations from fellow Sandy victims. It was a sign, he said, that people were rooting for him.
“I just want to be able to say, ‘Here’s what’s wrong with the programs: We need leadership, we need transparency, we need to streamline a few different things. We need to get these people home so we can move on,’ he said, adding that Christie had broken a promise he made in his 2014 State of the State address.
“He wasn’t going to rest until everybody was back home, and he sort of bailed on us,” Mangino said. “I don’t want to stop him from whatever his aspirations or goals are, but really that’s not my concern. My concern is me and my family."
While most Sandy victims tell pollsters they feel Christie has turned his back on them, views of the recovery are more favorable among the general population, said Patrick Murray with the Monmouth University Polling Institute. His latest survey found more than half of respondents are satisfied with the progress so far.
“For most of the people of New Jersey, the Sandy recovery is the beaches and boardwalks, because that’s what they go to visit over the summer," Murray said. "They’re seeing the vast majority of those back up and running. And they’re really not sure about what’s happening with the people whose houses were demolished, and are out of their homes."
Considering how much damage Sandy caused to New Jersey, Murray thinks it’s surprising that the speed bumps the recovery has encountered -- including delays in aid, lost applicant paperwork and problems with government contractors -- haven’t been more of an issue.
“The fact that the stories have been able to be swept under the carpet for the most part, and most of New Jersey isn’t aware of this or doesn’t want to be aware of this is actually giving the governor a bit of a pass on needing to deal with this situation,” he said.
Storm survivors and critics have confronted Christie before about the problems with the recovery. Administration officials have responded that they’ve made a number of improvements, including new procedures to get aid money out the door faster.
For his part, Christie has vigorously defended his record, like when protester Jim Keady confronted him last October in Belmar and Christie yelled at him to sit down and shut up.
“Somebody like you doesn’t know a damn thing about what you’re talking about, except to stand up and show off when the cameras are here,” Christie said. “I’ve been here when the cameras weren’t here and did the work!”
Christie's approval ratings were in the 70-percentile range immediately after the storm. But while his overall popularity has dropped, both locally and nationally, polls find it's due more to the Bridgegate scandal and New Jersey’s economy.
At this point, Sandy isn't causing outrage in New Jersey, pollster Patrick Murrary said, so he's skeptical the complaints will gain much traction in New Hampshire or Iowa, either.
3/8/2015 Family of 10 still homeless after Sandy Mark Di Ionno Star Ledger
When Jen Toole walked into her house in Manasquan after Hurricane Sandy, she was overwhelmed by the stench.
"The floors looked like we had the ugliest brown carpeting," she said. "It was brown sludge, raw sewage. It almost made me sick to my stomach."
Her refrigerator was knocked over. Brown water gushed from cabinets and the dishwasher. Furniture and household items were soaked with the same nasty concoction of sewage and oil, carried by overflowing briny water from nearby streams and coastal lakes.
In the 28 months since, the reflexive gagging and panic Jen Toole experienced when she saw her family's home destroyed has been replaced by a nagging, ulcerative kind of anxiety.
We're getting pretty good at it. I almost don't think about it. It's our reality." -- Matt Toole, father of eight
The Toole family -- Jen, her husband, Matt, and their eight children -- are still not home, and not sure when they will be.
They have moved four times. They squeezed in with her parents. They camped out in a friend's basement, which once began to flood in heavy rain. There have been two off-season rentals. The small bungalow they now occupy near Brielle Avenue Beach will be rented for the summer to post-college-age partiers and the family will have to move again.
They're not sure where.
All that moving would be tough for anybody. But with eight kids? And all that comes with them?
"But we're getting pretty good at it," Matt Toole said. "I almost don't think about it. It's our reality."
There are a lot of realities to the Tooles' story -- realities faced by tens of thousands of people left homeless by Sandy, or with destroyed second homes.
They have boxes of paperwork. Insurance claims for wind and water damage. Federal and state applications for grants, loans and rental assistance. Demolition permits, building permits. Information on ever-changing elevation requirements.
"I wish there was one place to go for answers; I wish you could have one advocate to work on your case," Jen Toole said. "Just the other day I was in the town (municipal) offices, and there was still a question of how high we have to build to get the best flood insurance. Was it town standards? Or FEMA? Nobody seems to know."
They have been handed off to four different representatives from their insurance company, two from as far away as Mobile, Ala. They have had three different caseworkers from the state's Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) program, and four from Coastal Habitat for Humanity.
They were first told to rehab, then rebuild, by FEMA and insurance adjustors. Each option required a different set of paperwork for applications, permits, grants, loans. Paper, and more paper. Forms on top of forms.
They had flood insurance, but got low-balled, then had to hire a public adjuster and lawyer, and now they are in court, wrangling to get the maximum $250,000 coverage allowed by law for a home valued at $400,000. Depositions and statements, more forms, more paper.
"They first offered us $109,000. Now, it's up to $160,000," said Matt Toole, who said it will cost about $320,000 to rebuild. "I paid between $1,600 and $2,000 a year for $250,000 coverage for 17 years. Why is this an issue? Why is this a fight? My house was totally destroyed.
"You can't keep track of all you have to do and have a full-time job," he said. "This (paperwork, etc.,) is a full-time job."
And if you slip up -- miss a deadline, forget a piece of paper, fill out the wrong form -- the process grinds to a halt. The proof is in the number of people "still out" as opposed to "back in," two pieces of post-Sandy lexicon that need no further explanation.
"I wish this story was unusual, but it isn't," said Amanda Devecka-Rinear, co-founder of the New Jersey Organizing Project, which focuses on issues surrounding Sandy and environmental problems in the coastal regions of the state. "There are thousands of people still not back home. We want to see a greater effort, as a state, to get these people back home."
Of the 10,800 families in the RREM program, only 328 are back in their homes, according to a report released last month by the Fair Share Housing Center,in conjunction with the Latino Action Network and the New Jersey NAACP.
Of 5,400 damaged rental units in the state's multifamily restoration program, only 51 have been completed, according to the same report.
"The frustration level is very high," said George Kasimos, of Stop FEMA Now, an activist group that now has the state RREM program in its crosshairs.
"The RREM program is a mess. People are on waiting lists ... money gets disbursed, then they ask for it back. People are getting jerked around by their towns and contractors. Now, we have the insurance fraud issue (with FEMA announcing Thursday it will review all claims in which homeowners suspect engineering reports were falsified). This has been an unmitigated disaster."
Lisa Ryan, the spokesperson for the state Department of Community Affairs, said late Friday that 5,900 RREM program houses are under construction. She said 650 homes have been completed, including 400 in the last three months, "despite the brutally cold temperatures.
"We expect to see the construction completion pace accelerate as winter ends and warmer temperatures arrive," she said.
That's the big picture.
The small picture is a family like the Tooles; 28 months out of their house, roughly 850 restless nights, infinite levels of stress, anger, hopelessness.
They lived for 17 years in the home that was destroyed. Five of their children knew no other home -- a lifetime of memories. All grew up there. Over the years, they improved it, adding some bedrooms, updating throughout. Investing.
The winter rental they live in now is not home. It's a typical summer bungalow, not meant for year-round comfort. The bedrooms are small, there is no dining area. Everything is tight. But the Tooles have furnished it with a lot of laughter.
"We're lucky our kids love each other," Matt Toole said. "They gravitate toward each other, even when we have room."
He said this as Claire, 21, had Claudia, 17, on her lap, braiding her hair. A few feet away, Trent, 9, and Tate, 7, were playing mini-basketball in the kitchen. Tyler, 25, and Chloe, 15, were nearby, at the counter that separates the kitchen from the living room.
Twenty-eight months after the storm, there is hope, but they will "be out" at least another year. Friends are helping raise funds so the family can build a foundation for a new home on the property where their old home was. Volunteers from Coastal Habitat will help with the rest.
Claudia's friend, Conor Gleason, started a crowd-funding site for the family atgofundme.com/toolefamilyfund.
The Manasquan Elks is holding a fundraiser called "No Family Left Behind"on April 11 for the Tooles.
"I think of all the fundraising events I've been a part of," Jen Toole said. "It seems neighbors are always there to help neighbors. Thank God for neighbors."
3/8/2015 Displaced Hurricane Sandy Victims Protest Christie In IowaBY KIRA LERNER Think Progress
DES MOINES, IOWA — More than two years after Hurricane Sandy devastated the New Jersey coast, Joe Mangino and his family are living in temporary housing as their home sits gutted and inhabitable. But when he and many of the other 15,000 families still displaced from the storm have requested meetings with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) to discuss his failed recovery efforts, the likely presidential candidate has said he is too busy.
So when Mangino, an activist with the New Jersey Organizing Project, heard that Christie would be speaking at the Iowa Agriculture Summit in Des Moines on Saturday, Mangino told ThinkProgress he decided to accommodate the governor’s busy schedule and booked his plane ticket to Iowa.
Halfway through Christie’s question and answer session with agribusiness entrepreneur and Republican donor Bruce Rastetter at the summit, Mangino stood up holding a sign, requesting that Christie “finish the job” and get his family home. The governor did not ignore the interruption.
“I’ll deal with you here the same way as I deal with you in New Jersey,” he said, eliciting laughter from the audience.
“My people follow me everywhere, Bruce,” he added shortly after. “It’s fabulous. I’m magnetic. They can’t stay away from me.”
Security officers quickly escorted Mangino out of the building as Rastetter dismissed the protest, telling Christie they were there to discuss “serious issues.”
“My family being homeless and 15,000 other families — that’s not serious?” Mangino said. “I knew we weren’t going to get a dialogue. This was a last resort. We’re stuck in a failing program and people are losing everything … It’s a desperate time.”
Mangino said that as he was making his remarks, a man near him in the audience told him to shut up and go home. “That’s the whole reason I’m here,” Mangino told ThinkProgress. “I don’t have a home to go to.”
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, New Jersey launched the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program which set aside $1.1 billion of federal funds to help state residents rebuild their homes, allotting grants of up to $150,000 to homeowners. But the roll out of the program was plagued with problemsand homeowners like Mangino have said they are stuck paying both their mortgages and rental fees as they wait for funding to come through.
While a recent report from the Fair Share Housing Center found that Sandy recovery efforts are “far from complete” and 15,000 families in New Jersey are still waiting for aid from the state to rebuild their homes, the governor has focused his efforts on restoring tourism to the state and touring the country in preparation for a 2016 presidential campaign.
Early last year, federal officials said they were investigating Christie’s use of millions of dollars in Sandy relief funds for ads to promote tourism that also prominently featured the governor. And the state is currently disputing the FSHC’s claim that 15,000 families are still waiting to rebuild, saying it’s “a gross and irresponsible distortion of the facts.”
3/7/15 Christie heckled by protestors at Iowa Ag Summit, including one who says he's from N.J. Claude Brodesser-Akner NJ.com/Star Ledger
3/7/15 Christie heckled by protesters at Iowa Ag Summit, including one who says he's from N.J.
Claude Brodesser-Akner | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
DES MOINES — Gov. Chris Christie was barely halfway through his 20-minute interview with Iowa ethanol mogul Bruce Rastetter when the second heckler of the morning shouted at him.
Christie was in the midst of assailing what he termed environmental "overreach" by former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson when a protestor from the New Jersey Organizing Project, Joe Mangino, stood up and yelled, "I'm from New Jersey also!"
Mangino, of Beach Haven West, protested that Christie had not done enough to help mitigate the recovery from superstorm Sandy, at one point screaming, "I will NOT shut up!" — a clear reference to Christie's commanding another Sandy activist in Belmar to "Sit down and shut up!" last October at an event commemorating the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy.
Mangino was joined by fellow New Jerseyan Lisa Stevens, of Little Egg Harbor, who held up a sign, declaring "Thousands of families still not home after Sandy." Mangino was forced to vacate his home after Sandy, and in a follow-up email to NJ Advance Media, said that he had been forced to move his family three times in the aftermath of the storm.
On stage, Christie remained unruffled. He turned and joked to Iowa Agricultural Summit moderator Bruce Rastetter, "I am glad to see that New Jersey ... has come ... to Iowa. How great is that?"
"I think you understand, I'll deal with you here the same way as I deal with you in New Jersey," Christie warned, half-jokingly.
But governor checked his swing. As the protestor was escorted out by uniformed police officers, Rastetter remarked, "It really is a wonderful country that people can do that."
Christie nodded, unfazed, and even playfully joking, "My people follow me everywhere, Bruce" to uproarious laughter from the crowd of 450. "I'm magnetic, Bruce. They can't stay away from me."
It wasn't the combative Christie who'd been on display in Belmar last October, or who'd become an internet sensation on TMZ, chasing down hecklers on the boardwalk brandishing an ice cream cone. It mirrored the Iowa Christie who used humor when he was heckled at the conservative Iowa Freedom Summit two months ago and drew huge cheers by saying: "Don't they know I am from New Jersey?"
Earlier in the morning, a group of some 50 protesters from Farm Aid, PETA and a pro-family farms group called Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement stood across the hall of the Iowa Fair Grounds, holding signs and chanting, "Hey Bruce: What's it gonna be? Corporate rule or democracy?"
Several protestors complained that despite having purchased tickets to the Ag Summit, they were being turned away.
One of them, Nathan Malachowski, 22, from Des Moines, complained of what appeared to be an admittance system that discriminated by Democratic voter registrations. An NJ Advance Media reporter saw five ticket-holders turned away at the door. All five ticket-holders said they were currently or previously registered to vote as Democratic or Green Party members.
Several ticket-takers outside would not answer questions about why those with pre-purchased Ag Summit tickets were not being admitted.
Several clearly got through, however. Prior to Christie's interview, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who Christie helped reelect to a record sixth term last year while head of the Republican Governors Association, was the first elected official to speak at the Ag Summit.
"It's a beautiful day in Iowa ..." began Branstad, but almost immediately, a protester who'd secreted himself within the crowd stood up to shout, "It's all about money!" before quickly being escorted out by Des Moines police officers.
3/7/2015 New Jersey protesters in Iowa blast Gov. Christie over Hurricane Sandy Larry McShane New York Daily News
New Jersey protesters in Iowa blast Gov. Chris Christie over Hurricane SandyBY LARRY MCSHANE
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Saturday, March 7, 2015, 8:47 PM
Gov. Christie brought a bit of Jersey baggage along on his latest visit to Iowa.
A pair of Garden State demonstrators ripped the governor Saturday at the Iowa Agriculture Summit over his handling of Hurricane Sandy rebuilding on the Jersey Shore.
“Finish the Job in New Jersey,” read a sign waved by demonstrator Amanda Devecka-Rinear as Christie answered questions for the Des Moines audience.
She was joined by Joe Mangino of Beach Haven West, N.J., during the Republican governor’s 20-minute stay at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
The two stood up to interrupt Christie, who responded by joking with event moderator Bruce Rastetter.
“I’m glad to see that New Jersey has come,” the governor said. “How great is that? Great to have you here. And I think you’ll understand that I’ll deal with you the same way here as I deal with you in New Jersey.”
That wasn’t exactly true. Christie, who ordered another Sandy activist to “Sit down and shut up!” last year in Belmar, N.J., waited for police to escort the pair out.
“I think maybe he’s been told to tone down his temper,” said a third Jersey protester, Lisa Stevens of Little Egg Harbor, N.J. “His approval ratings are dropping significantly.”
Christie’s popularity is at an all-time low among his Jersey constituents --with just 37% giving him a favorable rating.
Stevens said the demonstrators were upset that likely GOP presidential candidate Christie is putting the White House above the Jersey shore homes of his constituents.
Christie spent all or part of 137 days out of his home state in 2014.
“Our governor is spending too much time out of state, and has to finish the job in New Jersey,” said Stevens, who couldn’t get into the event. “We have to keep sending a message that you can’t walk out on our state.”
The Fair Share Housing Center, a group critical of New Jersey’s post-Sandy recovery plan, says 15,000 shore families are still waiting for reconstruction of their homes.
Once the protesters were led outside, Rastetter cracked that he thought the crowd of 1,000 was Iowans-only.
“My people follow me everywhere, Bruce,” Christie said. “It’s fabulous. I’m magnetic, Bruce. They can’t stay away from me.”
3/7/15 Christie to Iowa Ag Heckler 'Glad to see New Jersey has come' Arit John Bloomberg Politics
The New Jersey governor gets reminded of problems back home while reaching out to Iowa voters.
A little bit of New Jersey—or at least its politics—followed Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to Iowa on Saturday. Christie was on stage answering questions at the Iowa Agricultural Summit when he was interrupted by protesters, including one with a sign drawing attention to families displaced by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Christie took the interruption in stride. “I’m glad to see that New Jersey has come,” he said. “How great is that? Great to have you here. And I think you understand that I’ll deal with you the same way here as I deal with you in New Jersey.”
Police soon escorted the protesters out, including one person holding a sign that read: “Governor Christie Thousands of Families Still Not Home After Sandy.” A recent report from the Fair Share Housing Center, a critic of how the state has handled its Sandy recovery program, said there are still 15,000 families waiting for their homes to be rebuilt.
“I’m magnetic, Bruce, they can’t stay away from me.”
Governor Chris Christie
After the protest died down, moderator Bruce Rastetter joked that he thought only there were only Iowans in the crowd.
“My people follow me everywhere, Bruce, it’s fabulous,” Christie said. “I’m magnetic, Bruce, they can’t stay away from me.”
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