Victims of Superstorm Sandy unloaded on New Jersey officials last Friday at the final public hearing on the state’s plans to spend the next $1.4 billion in storm recovery aid.
Resident after resident spoke in blunt and personal terms as they voiced anger and frustration over the slow pace of storm aid distribution. It was the most contentious of the three hearings held this month on the proposed spending plan, and several attacked Gov. Chris Christie’s handling of the storm and his perceived national political ambitions.
Lisa Spiegel of Long Branch said she got 2 1/2 feet of water in her Long Branch home during Sandy. She said she has been denied for one aid program and placed on a long waiting list for another.
“Where do you sleep at night?” she asked members of Gov. Chris Christie’s cabinet at the forum at Brookdale Community College. “Do you sleep in your own bed? `Cause I haven’t slept in mine in 16 months. How many of you have to go to a county park to use a bathroom?”
She began her comments by asking the officials to “wait while I get it together.” After a brief silence, she said, “That was 10 seconds. I’ve been waiting 16 months, and I’m done waiting.”
Christie’s administration wants to use roughly half the money for housing programs, including grants for homeowners to rebuild and developers to put up new apartment buildings. Of the $735 million to be spent on housing assistance programs, $450 million would go to low- or moderate-income families.
About a third of the next round of money would go toward fixing vulnerabilities that Sandy exposed in the state’s transportation, energy and water infrastructure systems. The $535 million investment would include a proposed “energy bank” to fund resiliency projects and a multifaceted flood hazard risk reduction program. Part of the money would be made available to satisfy governments’ matching funds obligations for infrastructure-related recovery and resiliency projects.
The state received $1.83 billion in storm aid last year. Christie’s administration says it is working as fast as it can while complying with complicated federal program rules.
Several speakers blamed Christie personally for their difficulty with rebuilding aid.
“He has been a failed governor in the recovery process,” said Jeanette Mistretta, of Freehold. “He has bungled everything. I don’t trust this governor to do what needs to be done. He’s fighting for his life right now for his presidential election, so he’s really not paying attention.”
“I blame you — each and every one of you, and the Christie administration — for not doing your jobs,” added Margaret Quinn of Toms River. She said she suffered $200,000 in damage to her home, and is struggling with state bureaucracy about storm aid.
“This is what you’re here for, to represent us,” she said. “And you’re not.”
Robin Lowry said she, her husband and 1-year-old son have been unable to repair their heavily damaged Toms River home, and are waiting for help from a state rebuilding grant program.
“We are living in a destroyed home on the second floor with no insulation, with a baby, and no help in sight,” she said. “We are stuck in a never-ending loop. If we had the money, we would fix it.”
Bruna Devino, a tavern owner from Union Beach, says she’s exhausted filing paperwork for aid programs whose demands never seem to end. Her business suffered $220,000 in losses, and her home an additional $83,000 in damage.
“It’s 16 months and it’s enough,” she said. “I’ve had enough of all of it. I’m 64 years old and don’t know when all this is going to end. What’s going on? Who are you really helping? I keep uploading and scanning, uploading and scanning. It really wears me out.”
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