Superstorm Sandy Families Applaud New Opportunities for Recovery - by Victoria Ford, Sandpaper - April 10th 2019
With Monday’s announcement of up to $100 million in disaster aid to be redirected to help 957 families still stuck in the construction phase of the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program came a flood of relief for those who continue to struggle 6½ years after Superstorm Sandy turned their lives upside down. RREM is the state’s largest disaster rebuilding program, but it has not done enough for everyone impacted by the superstorm.
The application process for the newly available funding will begin in June. Homeowners who accept the aid agree to live in the rebuilt homes for at least five years.
Still-displaced Sandy survivor Nancy Caira of Waretown called the funding a “lifeline” at a time when she and her husband, Tony, had almost begun to give up. The New Jersey Organizing Project member joined Gov. Phil Murphy, Sen. Bob Menendez, Rep. Frank Pallone, Sen. Vin Gopal and local officials in Neptune to announce important new opportunities.
During Monday’s news conference, Murphy expressed his hope that the added financial support will “make New Jersey whole again, after the worst natural disaster in our state’s history.”
In addition to the supplemental funding New Jersey will roll out, the state has extended rental assistance of $1,300 a month for still-displaced families for up to 40 months (previously a maximum of 21 months) and placed a freeze on “clawbacks,” whereby the state is recalling grant funds.
“We are thankful for recognition from the governor, senator and congressman for grassroots Sandy families and organizations like ours who have been pushing for these important changes, and we look forward to keeping up the fight to get families home,” said NJOP Board President Joe Mangino of Manahawkin.
Still, some remain cautiously optimistic. “We have learned when our disaster recovery programs fail, families get sicker and broker,” said NJOP’s Doug Quinn of Toms River. “We hope these new changes encourage families to keep up the fight. If the process seems off, we’d encourage families to reach out to us.”
The supplemental fund is a newly created $50 million pool available to homeowners who have yet to finish, or even start, construction because they lack sufficient resources. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gave New Jersey $4.2 billion for Sandy recovery in 2013; about $1.2 billion of it has yet to be spent.
NJOP will host community meetings to make sure homeowners are confident in moving forward in their recovery and in the application process, and will continue to take action to reduce and forgive clawbacks. Those meetings are on Saturday, April 27, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Ventnor Public Library; Saturday, May 4, 2 to 4 p.m. at Seeds of Service in Brick; and Sunday, May 19, 1 to 3 p.m. at the Elks Club in Belford.
NJOP was formed in 2014 by nine Superstorm Sandy victims and has since grown to over 4,300 members.
The organizing project has fought for and won rental assistance for Sandy families, transparency in Sandy spending, and foreclosure protections. Led by communities on the front lines of climate change and disaster, NJOP builds power to address the threats, health challenges and economic inequality New Jerseyans face and works for affordable healthcare – e.g., expanding access to treatment for people struggling with opioid addiction – and for reform in disaster recovery systems, to benefit families and to make communities better prepared for flooding and future storms.
FOR SANDY FAMILIES STILL REBUILDING, NEW FUNDS COMING THIS SUMMER by Michael Symons, NJ 101.5 - April 8th 2019
Nearly 1,000 families still not back in homes damaged six and a half years ago by Superstorm Sandy will be able to apply to the state for supplemental recovery funds beginning in early summer.
Gov. Phil Murphy and U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez were among the state and federal officials on hand Monday at the Shark River Municipal Marina in Neptune to announce changes to the state’s Sandy recovery programs designed to help homeowners finally make it over the finish line.
The changes were approved Feb. 22 by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds the program, and announced by the state Monday.
“For many New Jerseyans, Sandy is just a memory,” Murphy said. "But for roughly a thousand families still rebuilding through the state’s programs, Superstorm Sandy never left.”
“With this significant amount of new funding and rental assistance, we now have hope that all Sandy families will have the financial support they need to finish their rebuilding projects, to return home and to truly make New Jersey whole again after the worst natural disaster in our state’s history,” he said.
The $150,000 limit on grants through the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation (RREM) Program and Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) Homeowner Rebuilding Program is being lifted through a new ‘supplemental fund’ providing additional construction funds. So long as a homeowner stays in their home for five years, the additional zero-interest loan won’t have to be repaid.Two big changes were announced.
“The supplemental fund is going to make it possible to return the safety, the security, the comfort and the predictability that we all know as home,” said Kevin McGee, executive director of the St. Bernard’s Project in New Jersey.
Additionally, families who are receiving up to $1,300 a month in rental assistance are now eligible to receive benefits for an additional 19 months – 40 months in total, rather than 21. Murphy said some “could have faced financial ruin” by paying both a mortgage and rent if the program expired in June.
“They all share the same dream of returning home and getting on with their lives,” Menendez said. “Their marathon is not yet over, but today I see the finish line on the horizon.”
N.J. expands recovery programs for displaced Sandy victims - by Justin Auciello, WHYY - April 8th, 2019
Millions of funds will be available for New Jersey Superstorm Sandy victims that remain out of their homes, state and federal officials announced Monday.
Speaking at the Shark River Municipal Marina in Neptune Township, Gov. Phil Murphy announced an update to a three-prong plan to assist residents who remain displaced nearly six-and-a-half years after Sandy devastated the state.
The plan calls for the removing the $150,000 cap on Sandy-related grant funding; expanding rental assistance to a total of 40 months for residents in the state rebuilding programs (capped at $1,300 a month); and reallocating $55 million of federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds to homeowners in the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation and the Low-to-Moderate Income Homeowner Rebuilding programs.
“Since we announced these programs six months ago, we have made tremendous progress for those who have spent years waiting to return home,” Murphy said.
The governor said the marina, which was destroyed by the storm, “was rebuilt stronger and more resilient” adding that it “exemplifies what we want for every community, and every individual and every structure that was hit by Sandy.”
More than 1,000 New Jersey homeowners remain displaced.
Nancy Caira of the New Jersey Organizing Project, formed after Superstorm Sandy to fight for an equitable recovery, praised the new programs.
“There’s hope now, there’s finally hope,” she said. “Today is pretty remarkable — remarkable for me, my husband, and over 1,000 other New Jerseyans just like us who are still not home.”
Governor Murphy Takes Major Step Forward to Provide More Funding to Sandy-Impacted Homeowners - InsiderNJ - April 8th 2019
NEPTUNE – Governor Phil Murphy, Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, Senator Bob Menendez, Congressman Frank Pallone, and state Senator Vin Gopal today visited Neptune’s Shark River Municipal Marina to discuss the State’s plan to remove the cap on access to Sandy-related funds, allowing homeowners who have long been in limbo to complete construction on their primary homes. Additionally, those still impacted by Sandy will be able to get additional months of rental assistance. These efforts to support homeowners in the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation (RREM) Program and the Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) Homeowner Rebuilding Program to the finish line were recently approved by the federal government.
“My Administration’s goal is to get more funding into the hands of Sandy-impacted families who have run out of money and legitimately need additional resources to finish construction. Since we announced these programs six months ago, we have made tremendous progress for those who have spent years waiting to return home,” said Governor Murphy. “Federal approval of our plan puts us one significant step closer to making this a reality. For the families who have yet to complete their rebuilding efforts, we recognize the difficulties you’ve endured. But we hope the actions we’ve taken over the last year eliminate the challenges that remain and demonstrate our commitment to helping all who were so devastated by Superstorm Sandy.”
“The 1,200 or so New Jerseyans who remain in the state rebuilding program have been through hell and back again. Some were defrauded by their building contractor; some had to spend tens of thousands of dollars fighting flood insurance companies in court; and some remain paralyzed by the fear of dreaded claw-back letters,” said Senator Menendez. “These Sandy survivors have faced many different obstacles. But at the end of the day they all share the same dream of returning home and getting on with their lives. Their marathon is not yet over but today the finish line is on the horizon, and the day they can return home is within reach.”
“It has been nearly six and a half years since Sandy devastated our shore communities,” said Rep. Pallone. “We cannot lose sight of the fact that New Jerseyans continue to recover to this day. This assistance, which will come from the Sandy relief package that I fought for in Congress, will significantly help to remove financial barriers for New Jersey residents who are still working to return to their homes. I applaud Governor Murphy and my colleagues in Congress for their steadfast support in this ongoing recovery.”
“My Department’s Sandy Recovery Division has ramped up efforts to help homeowners finish rebuilding once and for all,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Y. Oliver, who serves as Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA). “Throughout the month of March, we held well-attended outreach sessions about the additional funding in communities that were hit hard by Sandy. No longer will people in the RREM Program and LMI Program be limited to a $150,000 grant.”
“Thousands of New Jerseyans had the course of their life altered forever, and so many still deal with the impacts today,” said State Senator Vin Gopal. “While we continue to fight for support at the state level, ensuring we hold Sandy-repair contractors accountable, I am elated to join Gov. Murphy and our federal representatives today to announce $50 million that will go toward one of the most important Sandy recovery goals we can achieve: keeping New Jerseyans in their homes.”
Previously, homeowners in the RREM Program and the LMI Program were limited to a maximum grant award of $150,000 to rebuild their primary residence. Because the grant award is not sufficient for some homeowners to complete their project, DCA requested and received approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to reallocate $50 million of federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds to the RREM Program and the LMI Program to provide additional construction funding that should remove any financial roadblocks to a full recovery for these families.
Also, homeowners in the RREM Program and LMI Program who are in construction can receive up to $1,300 per month through the Rental Assistance Program (RAP) while their homes are being rebuilt. The Murphy Administration successfully petitioned the federal government to allow homeowners to now receive up to a total of 40 months of rental assistance funded with CDBG-DR dollars. Rental assistance was previously limited by federal regulations to 21 months.
“Homeowners continue to work towards completing construction, but the financial strain of an additional rental payment can be the difference between finishing or abandoning the project,” said Charles Richman, Executive Director of the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (NJHMFA), which administers the Rental Assistance Program. “We at the NJHMFA are proud to help those families who were severely impacted by Sandy make ends meet so they can return home.”
DCA allocated $50 million to create a Supplemental Fund exclusively for homeowners in the RREM Program and the LMI Program who have a program-calculated unmet need and who have yet to complete construction. Awards from the Supplemental Fund will be uncapped, will be calculated based on the remaining program-eligible work needed to finish the project, and will take into account other funding sources. Homeowners who accept a Supplemental Fund award will be required to live in the home for five years following construction completion.
DCA plans to make applications for the Supplemental Fund available in early summer.
“More than six years later, struggling Sandy families need a lifeline to get across the finish line and finally make it back home. The New Jersey Organizing Project welcomes this lifeline,” said Amanda Devecka-Rinear, Executive Director of the New Jersey Organizing Project (NJOP). “Both the extension of rental assistance and the creation of a supplemental fund create hope and options where previously there were none. We look forward to continuing to work together to make sure families don’t have to struggle alone.”
DCA’s Sandy Recovery Division hosted evening and weekend outreach sessions about the Supplemental Fund throughout the month of March to packed rooms in communities such as Atlantic City, Brick, Little Ferry, Toms River, and Union Beach. Information about the outreach sessions and the Supplemental Fund was provided via direct phone calls and emails to every homeowner in the RREM Program and the LMI Program who is still rebuilding and who may be eligible for supplemental funding.
Crooked Sandy contractor bound for halfway house after less than year in prison by Russ Zimmer and Jean Mikle - Asbury Park Press
A serial fraudster who preyed on dozens of superstorm Sandy victims has been moved to a community release program after spending less than 200 days in prison.
Jamie Lawson, 43, was transferred last week out of a prison in South Jersey and into the custody of an assessment center, one stop from a work-release program. This revelation has infuriated his victims, at least one of whom is still out of their home because of Lawson's thievery.
“Oh my God, angry," Carol Ferraioli told the Asbury Park Press when asked how she felt about Lawson's transfer out of prison. "That was the first thing out of my mouth when we left the courtroom (after Lawson's sentencing) — that that man would be out of prison before I was back in my home.”
In July, Lawson was sentenced to a term of 3½ to 10 years in prison after he admitted to fleecing 41 superstorm Sandy victims out of nearly $2 million. See Lawson's sentencing in the video above this story.
His formula involved contracting with Sandy victims to elevate and rebuild homes. Ultimately, Lawson would spend the money on "personal expenses" and perform little or no work for the homeowner.
Lawson was featured in a Press investigation that exposed the loopholes in New Jersey law that allows felons like Lawson to register as home improvement contractors without a background check to ensure that they aren't predators who pack up and move to another state when their grift is discovered.
John Ongrady Jr. who was Lawson's first victim on the Shore, called the news "another slap in the face" but added that he wasn't blindsided.
"This guy is a conman like you wouldn’t believe. He’s amazing," said Ongrady, a retiree who lives in Toms River with his wife, Sheila. "Right now, he’s conning these probation people, I know it. You have to talk to this guy to understand.”
Lawson performed some of the work he promised for the Ferraiolis, who were living in the Port Monmouth section of Middletown when Sandy struck. However, doing the job and doing it well are two very different accomplishments.
In the process of elevating their home, which is still up on cribbing today, Lawson ruined the house. It must be lowered, demolished and rebuilt.
Carol Ferraioli told the Press in a recent interview that their financing is nearly in order, and that she and her husband, Anthony, will be reimbursed by the state for the disaster aid money that Lawson stole from them. Still, it may be two years before they are able to move back to their neighborhood, she said.
“It was a 10-year sentence and then it's that he only has to serve two-and-a-half," Ferraioli said. "I just get so angry when I think about all this.”
Lawson had a lengthy criminal history by the time he began operations in New Jersey in the wake of Sandy.After he was indicted for on nine felony counts in Ocean County in December 2016, Lawson fled and was on the run for six months.
Eventually, Lawson was arrested by U.S. Marshals in South Carolina and brought back to New Jersey, where he stretched out the legal process by agreeing to plead guilty, then changing his mind before flipping back again.
His sentence required a minimum of 3½ years incarceration, but Lawson was given credit for the 400 days he spent behind bars at the county jail awaiting trial.
At one point before his sentencing, Lawson offered $300,000 in restitution for his victims, but the state could not accept the money because there were no assurances it didn't come from victims elsewhere, William Scharfenberg, supervising assistant Ocean County prosecutor, has said.
Lawson has criminal records in North Carolina, South Carolina, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and New Jersey. Authorities have said he would travel to states after natural disasters and begin doing home improvement work, taking advantage of vulnerable homeowners who were desperate to get back into their damaged homes.
Lawson was moved to Talbot Hall in Kearny on Feb. 12, according to a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
"When residents reach their treatment goals, they are referred to an appropriate halfway house to begin participation in work-release programs," reads a description of Talbot Hall on the website of the Education & Health Centers of America, a private company that runs Talbot and five other treatment centers for the state of New Jersey.
NJ WANTS TO REDIRECT UNSPENT FEDERAL AID TO HELP LAST SANDY VICTIMS GET HOME by Colleen O'Dea, NJ Spotlight
State would use $50 million for people to finish rebuilding their damaged homes and another $10 to construct multi-family affordable units
Still recovering six years after superstorm Sandy, New Jersey is looking to provide another $50 million in yet unspent federal aid to families who are still not back in damaged homes and spend $10 million to build affordable units to replace multi-family homes destroyed by the powerful storm.
The Department of Community Affairs is holding a public hearing today in Toms River on its proposal for these two measures. A hearing and public comment period are required before the state can repurpose funds received through the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development must approve all fund transfers.
New Jersey received about $4.2 billion in CDBG disaster-recovery funds and has spent all but $1.2 billion. The unspent funds are largely earmarked for projects and the money must be spent by 2022.
The latest fund transfers would fulfill a promise Gov. Phil Murphy made late last October on the sixth anniversary of Sandy, which damaged or destroyed 346,000 homes across the state, to help some 1,000 property owners finally complete repairs and return to their homes. Problems with contractors and insurance companies are just some of the reasons why people were unable to get back home.
Insurance company paid ‘37 cents on the dollar’
A combination of factors, including health crises, has kept the Cairas from being able to complete the reconstruction of their Waretown home.
The couple did receive a grant from the state’s primary home rebuilding program. Still, because the house was deemed “substantially damaged” and must be elevated to prevent future flooding, environmental concerns about the property mean it needs special permits. And the insurance company paid only “37 cents on the dollar” to cover costs, said Nancy Caira.
“Not only is the lack of adequate funding holding us back,” she said, “my husband and I have faced many challenges and setbacks due to our health since Sandy hit. Just six months after the storm, my husband had a serious heart attack that kept him out of work for several months in a cardiac rehab program. I also have had numerous surgeries and hospitalizations since then … Even without facing the devastation wrought by Sandy on our lives, it has been a very difficult six years.”
To help those like Caira, the state is seeking to transfer an additional $46 million into the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation Program and $4 million to the Low- to Moderate-Income Homeowners Rebuilding Program to create a supplemental fund that would provide more money for program participants who have not yet finished rebuilding to complete their projects.
Initially, a homeowner could get $150,000 for rebuilding. Approximately 6,500 homeowners in RREM and the LMI Program have completed rebuilding projects. Under the latest DCA proposal, those for whom that money, combined with insurance and other funds, was inadequate would be able to apply for enough additional assistance to cover unmet needs. Recipients of supplemental funding would have to live in their homes for at least five years, with a subordinate mortgage placed on the property. No monthly principal payments would be required and the mortgage would be forgiven after five years, following the completion of construction.
“We want to get these homeowners the additional resources they need to finish rebuilding and get back home,” said Lieutenant Governor Sheila Y. Oliver, who is also the DCA Commissioner, in a statement announcing the proposal.
‘Cross the Finish Line Fund’
Amanda Devecka-Rinear, executive director of the New Jersey Organizing Project that has been working to help Sandy victims recover, termed the money a “Cross the Finish Line Fund” and said the organization is “very much in support” of its creation.
Homeowners could only use the supplemental funds to complete the work for which they had initially applied when they first received a RREM or LMI grant.
“This will create an opportunity for many families where there wasn’t one,” Caira said.
The $50 million in supplemental funding would be created by transferring money from 10 other programs, according to a DCA amendment to its Sandy CDBG-DR Action Plan. The largest of these would be a transfer of nearly $19 million from a business loan program. The Stronger New Jersey Business Loans Program has already approved $83 million in loans to 120 businesses and the fund would still have about $17 million left following the transfer.
In addition, DCA is proposing to transfer $10 million for the creation of affordable housing units to address the loss of multi-family housing caused by superstorm Sandy. At least 80 percent of the money would be prioritized for projects to repair, replace or construct new multi-family housing within the nine counties most impacted by Sandy, as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Those counties are Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, and Union. On completion, these projects would give priority for residency to those impacted by the storm during the first 90 days of leasing.
“Sandy also affected the rental housing market,” Oliver said. “Increased demand for rental units, coupled with the loss of rental stock due to the storm, drove up rents in all the impacted counties, pricing many people out of places to live.”
Many renters ‘had a hard time’
“It is harder and harder for families to find affordable housing and many renters had a hard time getting back in their communities after Sandy,” said Devecka-Rinear, adding that this transfer of funds is “a good idea.”
Administered by the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, this program provides housing developers with zero-interest and low-interest loans to finance the development of affordable housing in the nine counties most impacted by the storm. As of December 1, 2018, 60 affordable home projects with 3,908 units have been completed with federal funds. Another 16 projects are in various stages of pre-construction and construction and will yield an additional 936 affordable units.
DCA proposes transferring $10 million from the Blue Acres Buyout Program, which has been buying up flood-prone properties. The funds transfer will not affect the state Department of Environmental Protection’s ability to continue funding buyouts, according to the amendment that would cover this program.
The department is set to hear from the public on both amendments today from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Toms River Municipal Complex. The period to submit written comments on the $50 million transfer for homeowners ends tomorrow. People can submit comments on the affordable rental housing funds transfer through January 19. Comments also can be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NJ LOOKS TO SHIFT SANDY FUNDS, WITH NEAR 1,000 STILL NOT YET HOME by Michael Symons, New Jersey 101.5
A public hearing will be held Tuesday in Toms River regarding the state’s plan to reallocate $60 million from its federal Superstorm Sandy relief funds toward homeowner and rental housing programs.
Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration is proposing to put $50 million into new supplemental funds to help nearly 700 homeowners whose initial grants weren’t enough – even some who got $150,000 through RREM, short for the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation Program.
“The state has made significant progress in helping Sandy-impacted families recover. Nonetheless, some homeowners find themselves at an impasse because they lack the necessary funding to complete construction,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, who is the state Department of Community Affairs commissioner. “We want to get these homeowners the additional resources they need to finish rebuilding and get back home.”
“This hearing is about the creation of the supplemental fund that’s going to help folks that are still not home six years later get across the finish line and get home and finally be able to put this behind them,” said Amanda Devecka-Rinear, executive director of the New Jersey Organizing Project.
Devecka-Rinear said some people hit major roadblocks and that supplemental funds such as those raised by churches, unions, communities and charities has dried up.
“A number of people suffered from major health issues after Superstorm Sandy. People lost jobs. People had contractor fraud. So really big challenges emerged in the recovery process,” she said.
The state would add $46 million to RREM, bringing its total to $1.35 billion, and $4 million to the Low- to Moderate-Income Homeowners Rebuilding Program, or LMI, upping it to $54.3 million.
There are still about 1,000 homeowners in the RREM and LMI programs that haven’t finished their rebuilding projects, while around 6,500 projects have been completed.
Homeowners in the programs with an unmet financial need for work not-yet-completed would be provided funds through a subordinate mortgage on which they wouldn’t have to make payments, so long as they remain in their home for five years following the completion of construction. For each year a person stays, 20 percent of the mortgage will be forgiven.
The state Department of Community Affairs says 695 applicants to RREM and LMI have a total unmet need for $44.1 million. The average cost of their projects is around $266,000, well over the maximum grant of $150,000, and more than half of them have low or moderate incomes.
The state also wants to spend $10 million more on developers of affordable housing.
At least 80 percent of the Fund for Restoration of Large Multi-Family Housing funding – which would now reach $662 million – gets spent on zero-interest and low-interest loans to housing developers in the nine counties most impacted by Sandy: Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, and Union. But up to 20 percent can be spent elsewhere in the state.
So far, 60 projects consisting of 3,908 affordable units and 313 market-rate units have been completed through the program, with another 16 projects consisting of 936 affordable units and 286 market-rate units underway.
The state has received $4.2 billion in federal Sandy relief funds. Changes in the spending plan are common but require federal approval.
The Department of Community Affairs says none of the changes would affect any existing funding commitment to any individual, business, community or project.
The money would come from shifting $60 million, including $23.6 million from programs that provided business loans and grants, $18 million from Blue Acres fund buyouts of homes that flood repeatedly and $11.7 million set aside to cover state and local matches for recovery projects.
The Blue Acres program is the one initiative from which money is being diverted that appears most able to continue to take on new spending. Devecka-Rinear of the New Jersey Organizing Project said money could go back into that effort later if there is demand but that it’s urgently needed by rebuilding homeowners.
“We think the Blue Acres program is an incredibly important program and a really good idea. In some ways, the way it’s rolled out has meant that not everybody who wanted to access it has had access to it,” Devecka-Rinear said.
The state has spent $152 million to buy homes in flood-prone parts of eight municipalities: Lawrence Township in Cumberland County; Old Bridge, Sayreville, South River and Woodbridge in Middlesex County; Pompton Lakes in Passaic County; Manville in Somerset County; and Linden in Union County.
“So I hope that by doing this, we don’t shut people out that need a buyout but that we do help people really need to close this chapter of their lives and be finished and be home,” Devecka-Rinear said. “We’re going on seven years now.”
The public hearing will be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Toms River Municipal Complex.
Written comments can be submitted to the state through 5 p.m. Wednesday. They can be emailed to email@example.com.
Groups: Health care played key role in deciding close CD3 race between MacArthur and Kim by David Levinsky, Burlington County Times
Kim, who was declared the winner last week while provisional ballots were still being counted, beat the incumbent by a less than 2 percent margin. But Ann Vardeman and other advocates believe his fate was sealed last year when he wrote an amendment to the GOP’s health care bill that garnered the measure enough conservative and moderate support to advance from the House.
Democrat Andy Kim made history during this year’s election when he bested incumbent Republican Tom MacArthur to become only the second Democrat in the last century to win the 3rd Congressional District’s House seat.
But Kim had plenty of help from advocacy groups such as New Jersey Citizen Action and unions like the Communication Workers of America and SEIU 1199 that opposed the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Obama-era Affordable Care Act before mobilizing to oust MacArthur, who garnered national attention for his role in rescuing the legislation from an early death.
“We all fought to save the Affordable Care Act and then we worked to turn that fight into an election issue,” said Ann Vardeman, program director for New Jersey Citizen Action, during a Monday conference call with New Jersey reporters where she touted the independent campaign the groups raged against MacArthur and the important role that the health care issue played in the closely watched race.
Kim, who was declared the winner last week while provisional ballots were still being counted, beat the incumbent by a less than 2 percent margin. But Vardeman and other advocates believe his fate was sealed last year when he wrote an amendment to the GOP’s health care bill that garnered the measure enough conservative and moderate support to advance from the House.
While the amendment mandated that insurers would not be permitted to refuse covering someone with preexisting conditions like diabetes, cancer or heart disease, it would allow states to waive the “Obamacare” restriction against pricing those consumers differently if they failed to maintain continuous coverage, defined as a lapse of 63 days or more in a year.
Opponents called it an attack on protections for people with preexisting conditions, and it would become the centerpiece of the campaigns against MacArthur’s re-election but also Democrat campaigns across the nation.
Even former President Barack Obama himself referenced the issue on the campaign trail this fall.
″(President Donald Trump) says, ‘I’m going to protect your preexisting conditions,’ while his Justice Department is in court right now trying to strike down those protections. That is not spin, that’s not exaggeration, that’s not trying to put a — a positive glow on things, that’s lying,” Obama said during a late October campaign speech in Milwaukee.
Vardeman said MacArthur’s amendment saved the Republican bill and created a voting record on the issue. Even after the bill itself was defeated in the U.S. Senate, the issue would remain front and center with voters and the key to defeating MacArthur and flipping the House to the Democrats.
“If they never actually voted on health care, I think the conversation would have been different. It would have still been about saving the ACA, but (because of the MacArthur Amendment) there was a vote and people had a record,” she said. “The bill was dead and nobody was on record, but Tom MacArthur resurrected it.”
Laura Packard, co-chair of the health care activist group Health Care Voter, agreed that health care was the issue that mattered most for voters.
“The reason (Nevada) Sen. (Dean) Heller will not be a senator next year is due to his waffling on health care,” Packard said.
Union leaders Milly Silva, of SEIU, and Seth Hahn, of CWA, said their members are often on the front lines of the health care and helped rally to defeat MacArthur this past fall.
“They were outraged Tom MacArthur took extraordinary steps to attack health care,” Hahn said.
New Jersey Citizen Action helped organize weekly demonstrations outside of MacArthur’s constituent services offices in Evesham and Toms River and also helped formed coalitions with other groups, including Action Together Burlington County, New Jersey Organizing Project, as well as the NAACP, CWA and SEIU 1199.
The groups canvassed voters and built a campaign centered on MacArthur’s record on health care and the GOP tax overhaul. New Jersey Citizen Action also formed a nonprofit, New Jersey for a Better Future, to advertise against the incumbent on both television and digital web ads.
In a memo released to the news media, the group said its television ads reached more than 170,000 viewers and that its Facebook ads had more than 6 million impressions and its videos had more than 2.3 million views.
The group did not immediately release a dollar amount for its spending on advertising. In the spring when the group was formed, its leaders promised to spend “seven figures” on a campaign “exposing MacArthur’s record of voting against health care and his support of the Trump Tax.”
Outside group spending would wind up being a key factor in the razor-close race. More than $11 million was spent in the district by outside groups, surpassing the $8 million in combined spending by both candidates, according to ProPublica campaign finance tracking.
With the election over and MacArthur unseated, Vardeman promised that the group’s activism on health care would not end.
Four weeks remain in this year’s open enrollment period and New Jersey Citizen Action and other groups plan to continue encouraging residents to sign up to purchase coverage through the federal exchange.
“It’s extraordinarily important that people sign up,” she said.
Vardeman said her group would also press the new Congress to approve legislation to help stabilize the Affordable Care Act and reverse some of the Trump administration’s actions that she believes sabotage the law. She cited a bill penned by longtime New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, D-6th of Long Branch, that would expand the law’s federal subsidies so more people can afford coverage and boost cost-sharing reduction subsidies that help reduce out-of-pocket costs, such as co-pays and deductibles, for lower-income consumers.
“We focused for so long on saving ACA, we really should focus now on how we can improve it and lower costs,” she said.
News 12 New Jersey - KIYC: Sandy victims still waiting for 'clawback' resolutions
CHADWICK BEACH -Six years after Superstorm Sandy, hundreds of New Jersey families are still waiting for some sort of resolution to the "clawbacks" which have them owing tens of thousands of dollars in grant money back to the government.
Maryann Ryan used $100,000 in grant money to rebuild her two bedroom bungalow in Chadwick Beach, which was damaged during Sandy. But the state now says it overpaid her by about $38,000 and it wants that money back.
"I would have to pay $1,000 a month until the $38,000 was paid up," Ryan says. "Now, I am a woman of certain income and a thousand a month is ridiculous. They thought it was such a great deal because there was no interest. Well, whoop-de-doo."
Ryan is appealing, with the assistance of the New Jersey Organizing Project. The group says homeowners across the Jersey Shore are desperate for some sort of clarity from the Murphy administration on how clawbacks will be handled.
"We have folks who have money due in the summer, you know, $25-30-35,000, and they don't have it," says NJOP Executive Director Amanda Devecka Rinear.
Ryan isn't alone. Fred and Marjorie Schaffer, of Little Egg Harbor, replaced their home with the help of grant money, but were told they owe nearly $70,000 in grant money. The Schaffers also took out a Small Business Administration Loan which, they found out later, is considered a "duplication of benefits" under FEMA rules. Pat Weber, of Union Beach, faces a similar clawback because she received $30,000 in supplemental flood insurance.
New Jersey has $1.2 billion in unspent federal Sandy funds, and the NJOP has been lobbying the Murphy administration to use some of it to help clawback victims, as well as homeowners who lack the funding to complete construction so they can return home. The clawbacks may prove to be more challenging, since both the funding and the clawback rules come from FEMA.
"These are people who put everything in rebuilding and holding on, people on fixed incomes, people with 2-3 jobs, we have to do something," Devecka-Rinear says.
6 Years After Sandy, Booker, Murphy, Pallone Praise Menendez, Celebrate Success and Urge Congress to Pass Menendez’s Flood Insurance Reform Bill
InsuranceNews.net - 6 Years After Sandy, Booker, Murphy, Pallone Praise Menendez, Celebrate Success and Urge Congress to Pass Menendez’s Flood Insurance Reform Bill
UNION BEACH, New Jersey, Oct. 29 -- The office of Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, issued the following news release:
U.S. Senators Bob Menendez, Chair of the Sandy Task Force, and Cory Booker, Governor Phil Murphy, and U.S. Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.-06) today marked the six-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy battering New Jersey. The lawmakers met with Sandy survivors and advocacy groups to celebrate the progress made, and to urge Congress to pass comprehensive, bipartisan legislation known as the Sustainable, Affordable, Fair, and Efficient National Flood Insurance Program (SAFE NFIP) (https://www.menendez.senate.gov/news-and-events/press/menendez-flood-insurance-reform-bill-turns-lessons-of-sandy-into-action) authored by Sen. Menendez. The bill, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Booker and introduced in the House by Rep. Pallone, would remedy the problems of the current flood insurance program that caused so many Sandy survivors to suffer in the wake of the storm.
"When right wing Republicans blocked relief funding, I fought back and brought our region $60 billion to rebuild. When flood insurance premiums were about to spike, I passed a law stopping them, saving homeowners $50 million. When survivors faced frustrating delays from the Christie Administration, I pushed for changes to their botched system so homeowners could get assistance and rebuild quicker," said Sen. Menendez. "And when survivors came to me with horror stories of being lowballed by their insurance company, I led a Senate investigation that uncovered systemic fraud and abuse, and got homeowners an additional $260 million they were entitled to."
"I could not be more thankful that now we have a productive partner in the Governor's office who Senator Booker and I are proud to work and alongside to reallocate federal Sandy dollars to homeowners who still need help getting back in their home," Sen. Menendez added.
"While we have made progress in the six years since Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New Jersey, we still have more work to do," said Sen. Booker. "We already know that NFIP reforms are needed to protect homeowners in New Jersey and across our nation from the waste and mismanagement we witnessed following Sandy's devastation. That's why I continue to work closely with Senator Menendez who has led the fight for common sense, bipartisan legislation to help extend coverage to those who need it most while investing in resiliency and mitigation efforts that will help protect New Jersey families from future disasters."
Sen. Booker recounted a time when he and Sen. Menendez ran into a fellow Democratic senator who wanted to use Sandy funds for their own state's natural disaster. Sen. Booker said he saw Sen. Menendez "go straight New Jersey on this guy" to ensure "not one penny be taken away from the State of New Jersey (https://youtu.be/rDZJE_hnMLY?t=245)." (Minute 4:05)
"When I look to the future of this state, we need Bob Menendez," said Sen. Booker.
Announcing changes to the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation (RREM) Program and the Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) Homeowner Rebuilding Program, Gov. Murphy said, "With these programs, our objective is to find a path forward for the homeowners who have not finished rebuilding and who find themselves stuck because they don't have the financial means to move ahead. We want to work with people who are struggling financially to determine what they can realistically contribute, and we want to get them across the finish line so they can return home and get some much-overdue normalcy in their lives."
"Six years ago, when Superstorm Sandy hit our coast, people lost their lives, homes and businesses were destroyed, and local infrastructure was devastated," said Rep. Pallone. "I will never forget my first moments on the ground touring the damage Sandy wrought in New Jersey - like the homes that were battered to the ground in Union Beach and the whole business section on Bay Avenue in Highlands that was under water."
"I knew then that I needed to begin the hard work to bring the necessary support and resources to our state to help New Jersey rebuild, and that is why I fought hard in Congress to pass the Sandy relief package and to secure the aid needed to help victims put their businesses, homes and lives back together. I will continue to work with Senator Menendez and Governor Murphy to pass food insurance reform and whatever is necessary to assist the victims of Sandy and prepare for the next storm," Rep. Pallone added.
Sen. Menendez and Rep. Pallone first held a roundtable discussion at an Elks Lodge in Belford, NJ with Sandy survivors and representatives from New Jersey Organizing Project (NJOP), an advocacy group formed by Superstorm Sandy Survivors.
"Many people don't even realize their homeowners insurance doesn't cover flooding until they have a flood and find out they are on their own. At a time when more people need flood insurance it is getting too expensive. We can't have families priced out of protection. The SAFE NFIP act works to make flood insurance more affordable, but even more than that it prioritizes making mitigation funding available before a disaster. That means families can be safer, their flood insurance costs go way down, and every dollar spent on mitigation saves taxpayers six dollars after a disaster. But above all, prioritizing mitigation would save families the kind of heartache all of us went through and are still going through because of Sandy," said Krista Sperber, New Jersey Organizing Project member and Belmar resident.
The Sandy survivors at the roundtable directly benefited from Sen. Menendez's efforts to get them what they deserved after he discovered widespread lowballing on their flood insurance claims. The Senator successfully pressed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to reopen all Sandy claims, intimating a review process that led to policyholders getting an additional $300 million to rebuild their homes (http://www.menendez.senate.gov/news-and-events/press/menendez-applauds-hud-fema-decisions-to-give-sandy-victims-a-break-on-claims-review). SAFE NFIP would ensure survivors of devastating flooding never go through what Sandy survivors experienced after the storm.
The SAFE NFIP Act would extend the federal flood insurance program for six years while instituting a series of sweeping reforms. The bill authorizes significant investment in mitigation and resiliency efforts to reduce flood risk, while addressing critical problems that arose following Superstorm Sandy and other disasters, namely: unsustainability, low participation rates, inaccurate flood maps, an indifference to the benefits of flood control infrastructure, agency mismanagement, unsustainable debt service costs and contractor profiteering.
The Sustainable, Affordable, Fair, and Efficient (SAFE)
NFIP Reauthorization Act of 2017
Long-Term Certainty. Reauthorizes the NFIP for six years, providing certainty for communities.
No Exorbitant Rate Hikes. Ends runaway premium hikes by capping annual increases to 10 percent. Currently, premiums increase by up to 25 percent every year, depressing property values, creating affordability challenges, and discouraging participation in the program.
Cuts Wasteful Expenses to Pay for Investments. Freezes interest payments and establishes new controls for private insurance company compensation in order to reinvest in proactive mitigation efforts and affordability measures, including low-interest loans for homeowners' mitigation projects and affordability vouchers.
Strong Investments in Mitigation. Provides robust funding levels for large-scale, communitywide mitigation efforts, and mitigation assistance programs, which have a 4:1 return on investment and are the most effective way to reduce flood risk.
Expanded Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) Coverage. Increases the maximum limit for ICC coverage to better reflect the costs of mitigation projects and expands eligibility in order to encourage more proactive mitigation before natural disasters strike.
LiDAR Mapping. Authorizes funding for Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology for more accurate mapping of flood risk across the country, reducing confusion and generating better data.
Oversight of Write Your Own (WYO) Companies. Caps compensation for WYO companies to 22.4 percent of written premiums, creates new oversight measures for insurance companies and vendors, and provides FEMA with greater authority to terminate contractors that have a track record of abuse.
Claims and Appeals Process Reforms Based on Lessons from Sandy. Fundamentally reforms the claims process based on lessons learned after Superstorm Sandy and other disasters, leveling the playing field for policyholders during appeals and litigation by holding FEMA to strict deadlines for payments to homeowners, banning aggressive legal tactics that prevent homeowners from filing legitimate claims and ending FEMA's reliance on outside legal counsel from expensive for-profit entities.
Better Training. Provides for increased training and certification of agents and adjusters to reduce mistakes and improve the customer experience.
Furthering efforts to ensure fairness and expedite New Jersey's recovery, Sen. Menendez and Rep. Pallone reintroduced legislation last year to prevent so-called clawbacks of federal disaster assistance from survivors of Superstorm Sandy (https://www.menendez.senate.gov/news-and-events/press/menendez-pallone-unveil-legislation-to-help-residents-recovering-from-superstorm-sandy). Originally introduced in 2015, the legislation was in response to recoupment letters sent by FEMA to recover what it considered overpayments. FEMA has clawed back almost $3 millionfrom more than 750 Sandy survivors.
Sen. Menendez and Rep. Pallone then joined Gov. Murphy and Sen. Booker at the Union Beach Fire Department for a news conference, where Gov. Murphyannounced a new $50 million program Sandy survivors can tap to finish rebuilding their homes. Funding for the program originates from the 2013 Sandy relief package that Sen. Menendez fought tirelessly to pass through Congress. Through Gov. Murphy's program, eligible homeowners can receive funds in the form of a zero-interest, no payment loan that is completely forgiven if the homeowner stays in their home for 15 years.
After Governor Chris Christie made no mention of Superstorm Sandy during his 2015 State of the State address, Sen. Menendez led the Democratic state delegation in a letter pressing Gov. Christie to make changes to the state's Sandy relief program (https://www.menendez.senate.gov/news-and-events/press/menendez-leads-nj-delegation-in-calling-for-greater-in-efficiency-accountability-and-transparency-of-sandy-recovery-process). The changes were designed to increase the efficiency, accountability, and transparency of the recovery process.
Rebuild by Design, an initiative fueled by Sen. Menendez's efforts, is aiming to mitigate flood prone areas including Hoboken and the Meadowlands. Hoboken, which is susceptible to flash floods and storm surges, received $230 million from the project for coastal defense. The Meadowlands, including the towns of Little Ferry, Teterboro, Moonachie, South Hackensack, and Carlstadtreceived $150 million to complete three flood risk reduction projects.
Sens. Menendez and Booker first exposed the problem of widespread lowballing (http://www.menendez.senate.gov/news-and-events/press/menendez-exposes-problems-in-sandy-flood-insurance-claims-process-fema-pledges-to-fix) of flood insurance claims during Congressional hearings he chaired in 2014.
Sen. Menendez authored the Superstorm Sandy Relief and Disaster Loan Program Improvement Act (http://www.menendez.senate.gov/news-and-events/press/menendez-bill-to-help-struggling-sandy-homeowners-businesses-recover), signed into law last November, which extended and expanded access to federal disaster loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). His Homeowner's Flood Insurance Affordability Act (http://www.menendez.senate.gov/news-and-events/press/menendez-led-flood-insurance-reforms-now-law) was signed into law in 2014 to address skyrocketing rates many Sandy survivors were encountering. In 2013, he shepherded the original $60 billion federal Sandy aid package (http://www.menendez.senate.gov/news-and-events/press/menendez-lauds-senate-passage-of-604-billion-sandy-relief-package) through Congress.
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