3/7/15 Eight Presidential Hopefuls Address Iowa AG Summit Kait McKinney KCC8 News Des Moines
DES MOINES, Iowa —A number of presidential candidates were under one roof today for the first ever Iowa Agricultural Summit. While the event is technically a nonpartisan event, this is the next milestone for many big-name Republicans.
Two people were escorted from the Iowa Ag Summit after heckling New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
A total of eight potential candidates addressed the summit today. Presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio did not make an appearance.
Potential candidates discussed ethanol, water quality, biofuels, international trade and immigration policies that affect the vast majority of farmers.
Iowa agriculture and energy tycoon Bruce Rastetter organized the event on a basis that past election cycles have lacked such important conversations.
Gov. Terry Branstad's welcome remarks were quickly interrupted by a protester who called the event a “corruption summit.” The man was escorted, and Branstad continued his address by criticizing Barack Obama for not acting on the renewable fuel standard and not promoting ethanol. “Don’t mess with RFS,” Branstad declared, saying that renewable fuel standard is helping reduce foreign oil dependency.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie followed Branstad as the first presidential hopeful to take the stage. Christie criticized Obama on trade and renewable fuel policies, saying the RFS is “indicative of how the president doesn't understand the executive branch has to execute.”
Hecklers again interrupted the summit. Two protesters criticized Christie's response to Hurricane Sandy. The two people told KCCI's Ryan Smith that they are still displaced from the 2012 natural disaster. They also said they flew from New Jersey to Iowa specifically to track down Christie.
“I’m glad to see that New Jersey has come to Iowa,” Christie responded to the hecklers. The crowd cheered while the two people were escorted from the summit.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee took the stage next and defended the renewable fuel standard as a way for America to fuel itself. "A country needs to be able to feed itself, fuel itself and fight for itself," he said.
The conversation moved to trade promotion, specifically regarding Cuba. Huckabee said that if he’s president, he wants to have all the authority for trade promotion. Huckabee said Cuba “kicks their people in the groin,” and that the United States shouldn't trade with Cuba unless it can make an exception for freedom and liberty.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush agreed, saying that the United States should not seek trade with Cuba unless there are “big time changes,” he said.
Bush also spoke about immigration, saying immigrants who are currently in the United States need to have a path to legal status. He referenced Canada, saying “Canada has more economic immigrants than we do…We need to fix this broken immigration system.”
Bush led into the issue of food labeling, saying he’ll be cooking Iowa beef at his home after church Sunday in addition to a “really good guacamole.” He said he wants to know where those ingredients come from and that he supports country of origin food labeling, something Huckabee opposes.
Before wrapping up his time on stage, Bush squeezed in his appeal to get rid of Obamacare. A few audience members gave Bush a standing ovation at the end of his speech.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry applauded Texas for leading the nation in wind energy, and the crowd later applauded Perry for insisting the government secure the border as a first step in tackling immigration issues.
Sen. Ted Cruz agreed with Perry on immigration, saying it’s important to secure the border and stop illegal immigration.
Cruz said he wasn’t just going to appease the crowd by giving an easy answer on RFS and stuck to his opposition. He said he doesn’t think “Washington should be picking winners and losers,” and that we should allow renewable fuels to innovate without the federal government controlling it.
Cruz also attacked Obamacare, calling it a “train wreck” and that we need to repeal every word of it.
Rastetter said Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and other Democrats considering White House bids were invited but did not attend today.
KCCI's Kim St. Onge and Ryan Smith will have a full recap of the event on KCCI 8 News at Six.
3/1/2015 N.J. payout to homeowners for Hurricane Sandy slow Erin Arvedlund Philadelphia Inquirer and Philly.com
N.J. payout to homeowners for Hurricane Sandy slow
Erin Arvedlund | Philadelphia Inquirer and Philly.com
The nonprofit Fair Share Housing Center issued a scathing report in January: The state of New Jersey's disbursement of funds for homeowners rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy is far too slow, giving out only a small fraction of the money available.
Kristine Pyzyna can vouch firsthand for how painful the process has been. More than two years after the October 2012 storm, her state-appointed contractors still haven't finished.
And Pyzyna is lucky: She actually got a grant to rebuild.
Although money has been committed, New Jersey homeowners have received only a trickle of funds.
The most recent quarterly performance report submitted by New Jersey to HUD disclosed that $3.3 billion was provided to the state, which in turn spent just $768.4 million, according to Fair Share Housing, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Cherry Hill.
New Jersey's primary home-rebuilding program, stuck in neutral, according to critics, is known as RREM - for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation. About half of all eligible families have not even signed a contract to begin rebuilding.
New Jersey has spent just $219 million out of $1.1 billion allocated to RREM, the largest homeowner program for Sandy relief. (There are other programs included for renters).
Only 328 homes have been completely rebuilt as of January 2015. More than 40,000 owner-occupied homes in the state were severely damaged or destroyed by Sandy, and 15,000 families applied for RREM.
Of those 15,000 families, about 12,500 were found to be eligible. Nearly 2,000 withdrew or gave up on the grant process, leaving about 10,800 families still waiting for money as of today.
Those like Pyzyna, who received RREM grant money, often have severe problems with their state-approved contractors. An integrity monitor found that 12 out of 74 contractors for an RREM program had red flags, such as allegations of bribery, unpaid taxes, and labor law violations.
An Ocean Gate homeowner, Pyzyna explains the dysfunction of the RREM grant program; she's still fighting with her state-appointed contractor to finish work that began in May 2014.
"It was my dream to live near the water," she said of her Ocean County address. (Trained as a nurse and a health-care lawyer, she commutes to her job as a lawyer for the University of Pennsylvania.) "But people like us can't even get the work done, and some are even being foreclosed upon," because they can't afford to live elsewhere while waiting for the home-repair grants.
"The way we are treated, they take away your dignity. The contractor, Gov. Christie, the state agency. My case manager is the only one who fought for me."
Pyzyna's contractors were allotted $150,000 from RREM through what was known as a Pathway C grant, half for renovation and half to elevate her house, now in a designated flood zone.
"The vast majority of Sandy contractors are those who go from storm to storm. Some are local and good, but most are disaster profiteers. They scam the grants," Pyzyna said. She joined a group called New Jersey Organizing Project (www.facebook.com/NewJerseyOP) that calls on the governor to speed up funding and release money for repairs.
In Pyzyna's case, her contractor stopped work after she complained about the quality of the repairs, including cracked gas lines, circuits that blew throughout the house - "all of which they tried to charge me to replace," she said. "They shut down the job site and wouldn't file occupancy permits with the Borough of Ocean Gate."
She hired a surveyor separately so she could get an occupancy certificate and move back into the house.
Most recently, her state-appointed contractor installed baseboard heat with coils that didn't heat properly, Pyzyna said. Since she lives in the house full time, "I'd like it to be warmer than 56 degrees," she said with a laugh.
She is about to file an appeal with the Department of Community Affairs to reinstall the heating.
"Everything has been a fight, and I'm still stuck with [the contractors]."
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