NJ Accelerates Distribution of Sandy Aid

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Sandy-damaged home undergoing repairs in Seaside Park, NJ

More than a year-and-a-half after Sandy, the state of New Jersey has distributed just about a third of the original batch of $1.8 billion dollars in federal aid it received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. But the Christie administration says in a new spending report that it has made “substantial progress,” and figures show that it gave out almost twice as much in the spring quarter of this year than it did in the winter. 

According to the report submitted to the federal government, New Jersey spent just shy of $600 million as of June 30th on a variety of grant programs, such as ones to help homeowners and renters recover from the storm. Most notably, that includes the RREM program, which offers homeowners up to $150K to repair, elevate, or rebuild their primary homes. The fund has $1.1 billion to hand out, but only about a third of that has been awarded to date, and just $130 million has actually been distributed.

That pace is slower than many struggling homeowners would like, and the Christie administration has been criticized in the past for not handing out money fast enough. State officials have responded by pointing the finger at what they characterized as burdensome federal requirements aimed at eliminating waste, fraud and abuse, as well as environmental reviews, which they said have slowed things down.

At the same time, the state has made a number of modifications on its end in recent months to speed up the process, such as allowing homeowners to choose their own contractors and start repairs earlier, before all the funds have been released. Other changes include allowing applicants to submit more paperwork by mail rather than having to make as many visits to housing recovery centers.

Whatever the reason, the flow of aid money does appear to have quickened. The latest report notes that the state spent more than $175 million over the preceding three months, compared with just $100 million the previous quarter.

The feds approved another $1.46 billion in aid dollars two months ago, but the state has yet to tap into any of that funding. The Christie administration notes in its report that it expects to use that money to launch several new recovery programs in the second half of the year, including rental assistance for low-income storm survivors, infrastructure resiliency projects, additional buyouts in flood-prone communities, and outreach to non-English speakers and other vulnerable populations.

A third round of $882 million is also on the way, though nearly half of that is earmarked for engineering projects to reduce flooding in Hoboken and the Meadowlands through the federal Rebuild by Design initiative.

The aid money detailed in the report comes from the Community Development Block Grant program, and while it is not the only source of Sandy funding the state has received, it is one of the largest and most visible sources.

The Christie administration says that it “anticipates that this momentum will continue throughout 2014.”