Here’s a problem you don’t hear about that often with a state grant program: New Jersey is giving away $10,000 to 18,000 people, and there are not enough takers.
The grant money comes from the Homeowner Resettlement Program, part of the $1.8 billion the federal government gave to New Jersey to help Sandy victims.
Lisa Ryan, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs, which is administering the program, told the Asbury Park Press that just 8,348 people had applied as of June 20.
The deadline is June 30.
The resettlement program is meant to keep Sandy victims from moving out of nine storm-stricken counties in New Jersey or to help them to move back.
Spend the $10,000 on almost anything to resettle in your home: furniture, flood insurance premiums, utility bills, Ryan said. But it can’t be spent on construction for damage left by Superstorm Sandy.
Skepticism on the part of the public may be a factor in whether to apply.
“I have to look at it. So many programs have these nitpicky roadblocks,” said Carolyn Jones, 52, of Bradley Beach, a speech teacher for the Asbury Park schools who has been helping friends research aid programs. “They’ve given people more runarounds than they really needed.”
Applications can be filled out online at www.renewjerseystronger.org or by calling 855-SANDYHM (1-855-726-3946). Sixty percent of the money will be set aside for low- and moderate-income applicants.
There’s at least one catch.
Successful applicants will be required to sign a promissory note agreeing that the owner-occupants will remain in the county they resided in prior to Superstorm Sandy for at least three years.
If the money is spent on anything other than what it’s intended for, the applicant must repay it.
The resettlement program is a companion to the Homeowner Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program, which provides up to $150,000 to homeowners rebuilding from Sandy. The mitigation program is expected to help up to 6,000 applicants. It had drawn 8,017 as of June 20.
Volunteers helping residents in Sea Bright apply for the federal aid say that many come in for the mitigation grants. But the $10,000 grant to stay in their homes?
“We are getting quite a lot of people who are unaware that it exists,” said Francis Kiernan, a project manager for the Sea Bright Resource Center. “I’d say it’s about 50/50. Half of the people that sign up for RREM don’t know about the resettlement.”
Ryan said that in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, people affected left communities in droves.
“Thousands of those who left never returned to their homes or home communities,” Ryan said in an emailed message. “We don’t want to see that happen in New Jersey as a result of Superstorm Sandy.”
After the deadline, the DCA will continue to accept applications for the resettlement program on a “first-received, first processed” basis. Priority will be given to homeowners that were substantially damaged and low- to moderate-income homeowners.
To be eligible:
• The home that is a basis of the application for the resettlement program must have been owned and occupied by the applicant as the applicant’s primary residence.
• The home must be in Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean or Union counties.
• The applicant must have registered for assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
• The home must have sustained damage as a result of superstorm Sandy of at least $8,000 or had more than one foot of water on the first floor, as verified by FEMA.
• Single-family homes and owner-occupied units in multi-unit properties are eligible. Second or vacation homes are not.
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