Crooked Sandy contractor bound for halfway house after less than year in prison
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.
Tribune Media Wire - WNEP.com - Six Years After Superstorm Sandy, Nearly 1,200 New Jersey Families Still Can’t Go Home
UNION BEACH, NJ -- New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced Monday that more money will now be available to homeowners still struggling to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy, while people who already took out loans from the state to rebuild may now be able to have some or all of their debt forgiven, according to WPIX.
“We want to work with people who are struggling financially to determine what they can realistically contribute," said Governor Murphy (D-NJ.) "We want to get them across the finish line so they can return home and get some much-overdue normalcy in their lives."
Approximately 1,200 families are still not home on the six-year anniversary of Sandy.
Previously, the state did offer loans up to $150,000 to help homeowners rebuild. But many Sandy survivors say the loan process was rife with bureaucratic roadblocks.
"You think the storm is the worst thing that could happen to you but the aftermath is worse," said Joe Torsiello, who said his home in Ventnor has still not been repaired because the money the state program agreed to loan him does not cover the cost to rebuild. "So we’re basically back where we started from. So, what the governor said today was very encouraging, that we could possibly get money from another source."
The new monies available would also be in the form of a loan, available with no max cap and at zero percent interest. This will be funded at no cost to the state, through $50 million in federal Sandy recovery funds that have still not been dispersed.
The Governor also pledged to freeze a practice known as 'clawbacks.' When the state rebuilding program, known as RREM, found it over-disbursed monies because a homeowner got repair costs covered through multiple resources, repetitive letters went out to try and recoup some of those funds. Murphy said his office actually stopped sending recoupment requests back in January, as soon as he took office.
Now, the Governor's office stated, if a homeowner can demonstrate that repayment of the recoupment amount will create an extreme financial hardship, they will be eligible to have their debt forgiven. This benefit will be available to Sandy survivors who later lost their homes to foreclosure, who died or who have declared bankruptcy.
In order to make changes to New Jersey's Superstorm Sandy housing programs, the state still needs to hold a public hearing and a public comment period.
So far, state programs have been able to help rebuild approximately 6,420 Sandy-damaged homes.
By Colleen O'Dea - NJ Spotlight - MURPHY PLEDGES $50M TO SANDY HOMEOWNERS STILL REBUILDING 6 YEARS LATER
On the sixth anniversary of superstorm Sandy, some 1,200 New Jerseyans still can’t return to their homes. Now, the state is finally taking action to make additional assistance available to them.
Gov. Phil Murphy traveled to Union Beach, one of the Shore communities hardest hit by the massive storm, to announce the state plans to redirect $50 million in unspent funds to a program that would provide no-interest loans to homeowners. Those loans could be forgiven eventually, if residents have already received a $150,000 grant from a major homeowner-relief program but still could not pay all the costs of rebuilding.
“We could congratulate ourselves all we want on the rebuilding … however, we cannot stop until every family in every Sandy-impacted community is once again able to walk back to the doors of their homes,” said Murphy, after noting that most of the state’s residents, businesses, and boardwalks have returned to normal. But while 330 homeowners in Union Beach have been able to rebuild, 56 have not. Statewide, the number is “1,200 families six years later. We must get them back into their homes.”
Help for the hardest hit
Murphy also announced an official moratorium on the state’s seeking repayment from owners who have been unable to prove they spent all aid appropriately, along with an “extreme financial hardship allowance” that could lead to the state forgiving so-called clawbacks, which seek to recover money already disbursed. Owners will apply for an allowance to the state Department of Community Affairs, which will evaluate each individual’s ability to recoup aid. Proven cases of extreme hardship — including those who lost a home to foreclosure or who declared bankruptcy — would have their debt reduced or eliminated.
This “new approach … will no longer employ collection agency tactics,” Murphy added.
Both of those changes were requested two months ago by the New Jersey Organizing Project, which has been working to help Sandy victims recover, when the state announced an earlier reallocation of $10 million in federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds.
“There’s a new collaborative attitude to bring humanity and compassion back into the recovery process,” said Doug Quinn, a member of the New Jersey Organizing Project (NJOP), who is one of those still trying to finish rebuilding his home along the waterfront in Toms River. “Our goal is to get all our citizens home.”
‘Never-ending nightmare’Quinn said he was “cheated by my flood insurance company and the engineering firm they hired to do their dirty work,” so the reconstruction of his home “turned into a never-ending nightmare that consumed my life.”
The new loan program is for those who got help through the state’s main housing-recovery programs, Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation (RREM) and Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) Homeowner Rebuilding. Those programs provided grants to homeowners to cover rebuilding costs up to $150,000 not otherwise funded by insurance, Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance, Small Business Administration loans, or other sources. Together, the RREM and LMI programs have rebuilt some 6,420 Sandy-damaged homes.
Those unable to complete reconstruction would be able to apply for a loan for whatever amount is needed to finish the work after accounting for flood insurance, SBA loans, and any other funds available to the homeowner. The loans would have no monthly payment requirements. A homeowner who remains in the house for 15 years following the completion of construction would have the loan forgiven, while someone who sells a home prior to meeting that residency requirement would have to repay a portion of the loan.
Public comment period
The state received about $4.2 billion in CDBG disaster-recovery funds and has spent all but $1.2 billion. Officials had to craft detailed plans for spending the federal money. All changes to the way the money is spent are subject to a public comment period and a hearing and need approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Murphy said all of the $1.2 billion not spent is earmarked for projects. It must be spent by 2022.
“A lot of the money that is still outstanding is for the larger flood-control and other projects like the one we are doing here in Union Beach,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, a Democrat whose 6th District includes part of the Jersey Shore. “We’ve been focusing on individuals and helping individuals but that bottom line is a lot of that package was for Army Corps flood-control projects. And these are ongoing, hundreds of millions of dollars.”
The Union Beach project, estimated to cost about $290 million, includes a beach berm and dune system, a number of levees and floodwalls, road closure gates, pump stations, tide-gate structures, and beach replenishment.
Some 90 percent of Union Beach, which lies along the Raritan Bay shoreline, was flooded by as much as 10 feet of water from Sandy. More than 340 homes were destroyed or left uninhabitable. Perhaps the storm’s most iconic image, of a yellow two-story home cut roughly in half diagonally, was taken in Union Beach.
Statewide, Sandy damaged an estimated 346,000 homes, knocked out power to 2 million households, and killed 37 people.
Playing superstorm politics?
This being an election year with Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez facing a tough challenge from former pharmaceuticals executive Bob Hugin, Murphy, Pallone, and others present all praised Menendez for fighting for Sandy victims for the past six years.
Menendez and Pallone held a roundtable discussion with Sandy survivors in nearby Belford prior to Murphy’s announcement. The Senator opened it up by talking about his memories of seeing the devastation, of meeting those who had lost everything, but also seeing “some of the best of what we are as a state.” He also recounted fights to gain passage of a bill to stop a hike in flood insurance premiums that would have cost New Jersey ratepayers $50 million. The measure also reopened flood insurance claims that had been “lowballed” to gain another $260 million for policyholders.
Menendez also made a pitch for legislation he is sponsoring, the SAFE NFIP Act, that would provide sweeping
reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program, which needs to be reauthorized by November 30. Among its provisions, the bill would reauthorize the NFIP for six years, cap annual premium increases at 10 percent, and invest in mitigation efforts. It is one of a number of reauthorization bills pending.
“It’s the most comprehensive bill,” said Menendez, who has bipartisan co-sponsorship. “It takes all the lessons we learned from the consequences of Sandy and incorporates them. This is the best bill. “
Krista Sperber, a Belmar resident who was knocked out of her home by Sandy for three years, agreed.
“At a time when more people need flood insurance, it is getting too expensive,” said Sperber, another NJOP member.
Krista Sperber, one of the founding members of the New Jersey Organizing Project, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
Sperber said that despite the flooding that damaged her home, she “felt pretty good because I knew I had the maximum flood insurance coverage.” But her insurer paid only 10 percent of her claim and she had to hire an attorney, and agree to pay him a third of any settlement, to get more money. While she remained out of her home for three years, she also suffered a period of paralyzing depression and anxiety.
“We can’t have families priced out of protection,” Sperber continued. “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."
By Kimberly Bosco - Jersey Shore Online - Myhre & Mangino Compete For Mayoral Seat, Spodofora Switches Sides
STAFFORD – After many years of seeing Mayor John Spodofora sit on the dais of Stafford Township Council, residents will see a new candidate take that seat following this year’s general election; possibly even ushering in a new era for Stafford Township.
The two contenders for the mayoral vote are Gregory Myhre and Joe Mangino. Myhre, a staunch “Make America Great Again” Republican, and Mangino, and outspoken Democrat, are vying for a three-year term as mayor of Stafford.
Representing opposing sides of the political spectrum, residents will have a big decision to make come Election Day on November 6.
Myhre is a resident of the Ocean Acres section of Stafford Township where he lives with his wife Amber and three children. While he is employed as the operations manager for a computer network integration firm, he does boast some experience in civil service as a former elected member of Ocean County Republican Committee and Ocean County Republican Screening Committee.
“I am a member of the Ocean Acres Civic Association where I have participated in neighborhood clean-up efforts. I am also active with my son’s Cub Scout pack,” added Myhre.
His biography on the Stafford Conservative social media page also defines Myhre as an “avid outdoorsman” who enjoys boating, fishing and scuba diving as well as an “Eagle Scout, member of National Rifle Association, NJ Second Amendment Society, & Marine Mammal Stranding Center.”
Myhre is the leader of the self-titled Stafford Conservatives who believe Stafford is in need of defense against “Governor Murphy’s far left policies and becoming a sanctuary town.” Alongside Myhre are Thomas Steadman, Anthony Guariglia, Michael Pfancook, George Williams, Robert Henken-Siefken, and Paul Krier.
Together, the conservative team list top concerns for the township as fiscal stability, the opioid epidemic, and the success of small business.
“We will work with department heads to identify priorities to ensure that tax dollars are spent efficiently. We will also explore expanding shared service agreements with neighboring towns where it makes sense to do so,” he told Jersey Shore Online. “The opioid epidemic is a top concern and we will work with the police department to identify areas that need more attention.
“We are fortunate to have Dr. Anthony Guariglia on our team and he regularly deals with patients who have overdosed so he will be an invaluable asset as we work to mitigate this crisis.”
One of the Stafford Conservatives’ main platforms is small business growth.
“There are too many unoccupied buildings and store fronts. Repealing unnecessary regulations can help bring business back to our town and also encourage existing businesses to stay,” said Myhre.
Greg Myhre and his family (Photo courtesy Stafford Conservatives Facebook)While Myhre and his team have already begun laying out their plan of attack on some of these issues – some of which you can find on their page – he does not define their agenda as aggressive.
“We believe that listening to the concerns of residents is one of the best ways to identify priorities now and in the future,” he explained. “Improved communication can help to deliver better results, there will be more community outreach events and we will brief the residents on any significant issues in town through announcements at town council meetings and on the town website.”
Listening to resident concerns is an ideal that Democratic candidate Joe Mangino can get behind, as his slogan is “Focus on Stafford.” Mangino preaches that “when you vote for me, you’re voting for yourself” because he intends to be the voice of the Stafford residents.
Mangino lives in the Beach Haven West section of Stafford Township with his wife and two kids.
Mangino announced his candidacy for mayor on August 22. His name was not on the ballot during the primary election, and even came as a surprise to some residents.
Mangino and his team of Democrats were a write-in ballot, for which Mangino changed his party affiliation from Independent to run. He is flanked by fellow Democrats Joanne Sitek, Brian White, Nicole Downs, Kevin Teeple, Denise Pobicki, and Chris Marzullo.
Joe Mangino speaking at an event. (Photo courtesy Joe Mangino Facebook)“After the primary election, people reached out to me to get involved,” he explained.
Mangino is not only a mayoral candidate, but also a member of the Stafford Board of Education since 2017, board president of the New Jersey Organizing Project, co-founder of START (Stafford Teachers and Residents Together), and is employed in the field of wood restoration and power washing.
Unlike Myhre, Mangino does not believe Stafford is in danger or vulnerable to other powers.
“I don’t think Stafford is in a crisis…I don’t think major changes need to be made,” he said. He plans to focus on maintaining Stafford as the great town it is, doing that at a lower cost to the taxpayer if possible, he said.
A significant part of Mangino’s work has been to advocate for Superstorm Sandy survivors as well, which is why he noted that prevention against future disasters will also be a point of focus for his team.
Mangino has already begun brainstorming new ideas that he hopes to bring to the town should he become mayor. These include working on rehabilitating or using abandoned bank-owned properties, as well as creating a “Shop Stafford” type of program to incentivize local commerce and provide rebates to property taxes.
“For the last six years I’ve done my best to be a leader and to have a positive impact in our community. From Sandy recovery to my volunteer life to my work on the school board I’ve taken ownership of our town. I love Stafford Township and you can’t stop that,” stated Mangino in the August 22 announcement of his candidacy.
Spodofora’s Surprise Switch
In other election news, it became a point of contention when Mayor Spodofora announced his resignation from the Republican Club in order to support Mangino and the Focus on Stafford candidates in the election.
When several residents took their time during public comment at the Oct. 9 meeting to criticize Spodofora, he simply responded by stating: “I’ve known Joe for a long time…He is a very good man.”
In a letter to Republican Club President Richard Carlson, Spodofora explained his reason for resigning by stating he “simply cannot stay neutral, nor can I belong to a club that supports these (MAGA Republican) candidates.”
Stafford Mayor John Spodofora (Photo courtesy Stafford Township)According to a report by The Sandpaper, Spodofora was quoted saying: “My whole thing has always been about doing the right thing for the town. I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat – all I care about is the future of Stafford.”
Since the loss of the June 5 primary, Mayor Spodofora has been a good sport, offering to show Myhre and his team the ropes at town hall. Myhre has so far not accepted this offer.
In a final statement on the matter Spodofora said: “I continue to have great faith in democracy. However, I have an even greater belief in the people within our community. I remain proud of each of you who can look beyond your self-interests and concern yourselves with betterment of your community. I remain humbled to have served as your councilman and mayor and wish for continuing successes in Stafford.”
Residents can find more information on the individual Stafford Conservative candidate and their plan of attack at facebook.com/StaffordConservatives.
For more information on Mangino and the Focus on Stafford democrats, visit FocusOnStafford.org/.
By Michelle Brunetti Post - Press of AC -On Hurricane Sandy anniversary, N.J. pledges $50M to recovering homeowners
The state will provide $50 million in “cross the finish line” funds for homeowners who have received federal grants but are still struggling to recover from Hurricane Sandy, said Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday.
The announcement came on the sixth anniversary of the historic storm making landfall in New Jersey.
The nonprofit New Jersey Organizing Project, which formed to help Sandy victims with recovery efforts, has been lobbying for a “cross the finish line” fund.
The state still has about $1.2 billion in allocated but unspent federal Sandy funding, said NJOP Executive Director Amanda Devecka-Rinear. Her organization successfully argued some of it should be moved into helping people finish projects.
Murphy announced the changes to the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation (RREM) Program and the Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) Homeowner Rebuilding Program at a news conference in Union Beach, Monmouth County.
The change requires approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but that isn’t expected to be a problem as the state has made other changes to its funding priorities in the past.
“It’s six years since Superstorm Sandy,” said Toms River resident Doug Quinn, of NJOP, as he introduced Murphy at the news conference. “There are people here today who haven’t even been able to even start rebuilding because they don’t have enough funding; and others who thought they were finished, (and) even though they followed the rules and did all they were told, the state wants back tens of thousands in grant funds.”
Quinn said the organization hopes the new program will give families more hope, more opportunity and more stability.
“We’ve fought long enough and families have been through too much,” he said.
A public hearing and a public comment period on the changes will be announced soon, the Governor’s Office said.
About 1,200 homeowners in the RREM Program and the LMI Program have not completed construction, according to the Governor’s Office.
DCA is proposing a zero-interest, forgivable loan to fully fund unmet needs beyond the maximum $150,000 grant.
Participants who owe money to the program will also have an opportunity to show that repayment of the amount owed will create an extreme financial hardship.
“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,” said Murphy.
The proposed loan would be uncapped, require no monthly payments, and would be calculated based on the remaining work needed, said the Governor’s Office.
Homeowners who accept a loan would be required to live in the home for 15 years.
If the homeowner were to sell the home sooner, a portion of the loan would be due upon sale.
And homeowners with completed projects who have been notified they must repay excess grant funds — in what have been called “clawbacks” — will now be eligible to apply to DCA for an extreme financial hardship allowance, the governor said.
DCA will use a uniform test to evaluate the homeowner’s ability to pay and may provide forgiveness of some or all the debt that remains to be paid.
Homeowners who have lost their homes to foreclosure, the heirs of program participants who have died, and homeowners who have declared bankruptcy would also be eligible.
Together, the RREM and LMI pro grams have rebuilt about 6,420 Sandy-damaged homes, according to the state.
For more information, visit renewjerseystron ger.org.
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