N.J. seeks extension of FEMA Sandy aid program

Posted: January 31, 2014

TRENTON Gov. Christie is asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a six-month extension of housing assistance to help pay the costs of 81 families displaced by Sandy who are still living either at Fort Monmouth or in mobile homes provided by the government.

The request to extend the Transitional Sheltering Assistance program, which at its peak gave help to about 5,500 households and is set to expire in April, would pay for temporary housing through the storm's second anniversary.

In a letter to President Obama, Christie said that "despite best efforts," these families have not been able to secure permanent housing. Some are still awaiting insurance settlements, the state said, and 31 have been approved for grants under the state's Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) program.

The request comes as attention is being focused anew on the state's own administration of hundreds of millions in housing recovery programs.

On Wednesday, U.S. Reps. Bill Pascrell Jr. and Frank Pallone asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate the state's termination of a contract with a Louisiana firm hired to manage the recovery programs.

The two Democratic congressman also asked for an independent monitor to oversee the state's disbursement of federal Sandy recovery funds, which come directly from HUD.

The $68 million contract with Hammerman & Gainer Inc. was quietly terminated in December.

The grant programs, chiefly the $600 million RREM program, have been mired in delays and cumbersome procedures.

Lisa Ryan, a spokeswoman with the Department of Community Affairs, said Wednesday that the state had completed grant award signings with nearly 1,200 RREM applicants, obligating about $131 million in grant assistance, including $25 million in reimbursements for work already completed.

The RREM program has been the focus of many of the complaints about the state's distribution of federal recovery money.

Hammerman, the Louisiana contractor, was in charge of setting up Sandy recovery centers in nine affected counties and processing complicated 12-step applications, which victims complained necessitated repeat visits, repeated replacement of lost documents, and unexplained denials.

Ryan said the centers had continued to operate without interruption.

At the Atlantic County office in Egg Harbor Township on Wednesday, an employee said about 150 clients had been seen this week at varying stages of the RREM process, including 94 on Monday.

The office has continued to use much of the same staff as had been working under the Hammerman contract, an employee said.

Ryan said the contract was terminated by mutual agreement "as the state transitions into the next phase of the housing recovery process." She said the state would cooperate with all reviews of Sandy recovery programs.





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