Sen. Menendez Urges HUD, State Address Delays in Distribution of Sandy Aid to NJ Communities

Sen. Menendez Urges HUD, State Address Delays in Distribution of Sandy Aid to NJ Communities

NEWARK, NJ - U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today announced that he has sent a letter to Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan insisting HUD and state officials attend to growing complaints from New Jersey families devastated by Superstorm Sandy and still waiting for federal aid. He also declared his intention to hold Senate hearings to address these issues.

"These individuals need and deserve the best possible assistance and funding to help them rebuild stronger and smarter than before, as soon as possible," wrote Sen. Menendez, Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development. "For many, however, the recovery is still far from complete - homes are still damaged, families are still displaced, businesses have yet to reopen, and infrastructure is still waiting to be repaired."

The Senator expressed concern over reports that the state's first round of Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding distribution has been wrought with delays, poor communication and a lack of transparency.

"More than a year after the storm, these problems are simply not acceptable," Sen. Menendez continued. "The people of New Jersey, who have worked and are continuing to work so hard to rebuild their homes and livelihoods, cannot afford more delays and runaround."

While many homeowners continue to wait for the funding they need to rebuild, Sen. Menendez noted that renters impacted by Sandy-a higher share of whom are African-American, Latino or low-income-are reportedly fairing worse. There have been reports of long waiting lists, lengthy delays and people denied assistance or left endlessly in limbo without knowing why. Reports also suggest low- and moderate-income families are getting less than what they have been allocated to receive.

Sen. Menendez wrote: "I hold HUD responsible for taking the leadership role to ensure proper implementation of best practices, including recommendations of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force's Rebuilding Strategy report. HUD must ensure that the state is more transparent, more equitable, and speedier in the distribution of crucial funds."

The Senator has also urged HUD and state officials to work with his staff in engaging local residents, community leaders and relevant stakeholders dissatisfied with the current process.

Full text of the letter to Secretary Donovan follows:

January 29, 2014

The Honorable Shaun Donovan
Secretary
United States Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 Seventh Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20410

Dear Secretary Donovan,

When Superstorm Sandy struck more than a year ago, it inflicted massive devastation in my state of New Jersey and throughout the affected region. Since then, individuals, families, businesses, and communities have worked hard to rebuild. For many, however, the recovery is still far from complete - homes are still damaged, families are still displaced, businesses have yet to reopen, and infrastructure is still waiting to be repaired.

These individuals need and deserve the best possible assistance and funding to help them rebuild stronger and smarter than before, as soon as possible. Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding, which the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) oversees, plays a critical role in meeting these needs.

I am concerned, however, by reports in my state that have described the first round of CDBG-DR funding as a process in need of improvement and a source of great frustration for many New Jerseyans. While homeowners are having trouble getting the funding they need, renters-who make up about 40 percent of the people impacted by Sandy and a higher share of whom are African American, Latino, or low-income-are reportedly faring even worse. Reports also suggest that low- and moderate-income families have been receiving a lower share of resettlement and other grants than they had been allocated to receive.

Lack of transparency has also been a concern for many people. I have heard several reports of applicants being turned down for grants without any explanation or left endlessly in limbo without knowing why. Long waiting lists and lengthy delays have also left many still waiting to return to their homes, or even to find out whether they can return home or will have to move.

More than a year after the storm, these problems are simply not acceptable. The people of New Jersey, who have worked and are continuing to work so hard to rebuild their homes and livelihoods, cannot afford more delays and runaround. As the state prepares its action plan for the recently announced second round of CDBG-DR funding, we need proactive leadership from HUD to address these problems. In particular, I expect HUD to work with state officials-providing clear guidance and taking a directive approach as necessary-to ensure relief is flowing in a timely fashion; to improve the transparency, fairness, and efficiency of the review and award process; and to identify and provide for the needs of all communities.

In this process, HUD and state officials must take seriously reported areas in need of improvement and engage with relevant stakeholders to incorporate their feedback as appropriate, including meeting with communities and residents who have not been satisfied with the current process or its outcomes. I would like my staff to be included, and would like reports provided to the Senate Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development as to how HUD intends to address each item of feedback and make the corresponding improvements.

Overall, I hold HUD responsible for taking the leadership role to ensure proper implementation of best practices, including recommendations of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force's Rebuilding Strategy report. HUD must ensure that the state is more transparent, more equitable, and speedier in the distribution of crucial funds. It is my intention to hold hearings as to these issues, and I look forward to your cooperation.

Please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff with any questions.

Sincerely,

Robert Menendez
U.S. Senator

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