WASHINGTON, DC – On the third anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez delivered the following remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate:
“I rise on this third anniversary of Superstorm Sandy to reflect on where we’ve been, how far we’ve come, and what is still left to accomplish. And to praise the people of New Jersey who have remained New Jersey proud and New Jersey strong during this long, three-year recovery process. But most importantly, it’s to remind everyone in this chamber and all around the nation that the job isn’t done yet. Many people might believe this is over, that everyone’s just moved on, but I know that for many Sandy victims that is not the case.
“In these last three years we have made a lot of progress. Billions of dollars of Federal funds have flowed to the state and were used to rebuild roads, bridges, and boardwalks -- help businesses reopen and keep people working. Those fortunate enough to navigate the maze of federal and state programs have rebuilt their homes stronger and more resilient than before. And the Jersey Shore has enjoyed a resurgence in tourism which fuels the local and state economy, creating jobs and supplementing the recovery.
“But, while the beaches have been replenished and the boardwalks have been rebuilt, three years later, for far too many working class New Jerseyans, the recovery not only is incomplete – in some cases it still has barely begun. There are still parts of the state that remain neglected. There are still families that haven’t stepped foot in their home for three years.
“They may not have reality TV crews following them around, but they are the real New Jersey, the salt of the earth who form the backbone of our great state. They are the unsung hard-working New Jersey families who suffered loss and pulled themselves back up and kept going – one foot in front of the other every day – not only because they wanted to, but because they have no other choice.
“For these families, even after the storm passed, the clouds parted, and the sun came out – a different kind of disaster, this time manmade – was looming on the horizon. They went from filling up sandbags to fend off the Atlantic Ocean, to filling out endless forms to fend off insurance companies and government officials. They had endured the fight against Mother Nature, but were simply no match against Uncle Sam.
“A constituent of mine and former Marine, Doug Quinn, encapsulated this sentiment perfectly in a letter he wrote to me. In it he said: “I was in my home the night the floodwaters rushed in. I waded out through waist deep water at midnight to escape while electrical transformers exploded and houses burned down. That was the easy part. It's the year-and-a-half since then that has been the tragedy.” Let me repeat that: the flood was the easy part.
“Doug had maximum coverage of $250,000 and received estimates of up to $254,000 in damages, but he received only $90,000 – just over a third of what he needed to rebuild. And Doug was not alone. Chuck Appleby is another one of the thousands of New Jerseyans who has had to engage in this fight for the past three years just to get what he deserves.
“Like many others, Chuck was lowballed by FEMA and his insurance company which claimed somehow it wasn’t Sandy that severely cracked the foundation of his home. According to them, it was all a preexisting condition that just happened to magically appear the day after Sandy.
“Imagine that. You played by the rules – faithfully paid for flood insurance for 10, 20, even 30 years -- never had a claim until Sandy came, only to find out it wasn’t enough. You assumed – since you have insurance – that you would be made whole and have the resources necessary to rebuild. But after surviving the wind and rain and storm surge you awoke only to face another nightmare: a flood insurance claim process that threatened to take what the storm had not.
“As much as I wish it were an aberration, Chuck’s story is not unique. Thousands of New Jerseyans were lowballed by their insurance company, stunting the recovery and leaving families out of their homes. Now fortunately, I along with Senators Booker, Schumer and Gillibrand were able to convince FEMA to allow all Sandy survivors to have their claims reviewed, which will result in tens of millions of dollars going to the recovery.
“Chuck is one of the people who opted in to the process and FEMA recently admitted its mistake and acknowledged he was shorted at least $50,000. Dawn and Sonny Markosky are another example. They stood next to me in Belmar this week after having received a check of $56,000 from FEMA’s claims review – money they should have gotten the first time around. Sonny served our country as a retired army reservist and police chief and is only now receiving the justice he deserved and the chance to rebuild. And even Dawn’s mom, who was lowballed $17,000 on her house, got an additional $17,000 from the claims review – money she’d been owed all along.
“It goes on and on. It shouldn’t have taken this long nor should the path have been this winding and difficult, but these successes illustrate the incredible resiliency all of the Sandy survivors who wouldn’t give up no matter how dark things appeared on the morning of October 30th, 2012 and throughout the three years that followed. And I will continue to fight to help everyone recover. I will continue to be a voice for everyone in the Sandy community as we seek to repair what happened and make our communities more resilient in the future and more capable of dealing with storms like Sandy that left incredible devastation in its wake.
“As we take a moment to think back on that day, three years ago, when the clouds finally parted and the ominous seas receded, the destruction Sandy left was almost unimaginable. We remember images like these of Seaside Heights. In fact, I actually took this photo while touring the damage with the Vice President. And this photo of Hoboken in Northern New Jersey where street after street looked like a series of canals.
“Thousands of families lost everything and suddenly found themselves homeless. Billions upon billions of dollars of property, roads, bridges, trains, schools, fire stations and hospitals were in ruins. And most tragically of all, dozens of people lost their lives. It was a dark time for our entire state, no doubt about it. But as the proverb goes, “the darkest hour is just before the dawn.”
“Today, as we remember that dark hour, we recommit ourselves to completing the job and entering the dawn of a new era in the long journey to rebuild and recover, not just to where we were before the storm, but to a place where we are stronger, more resilient, and more prepared. And I have no doubt we’ll get there together, not just through my efforts in Washington, but because of the indefatigable, dogged character of the people of New Jersey.
“We showed that character in the immediate aftermath when despite the level of devastation, New Jerseyans were true to their reputation of being New Jersey strong. Communities united. Families took in neighbors who lost their homes. And we all came together and worked together, and it was a testament to fundamental nature of community action, community involvement, and to what real community service is all about.
“After seeing the impact and damage that day, I came back to Washington with a heavy heart but a determined mind, solely focused on representing the countless victims of our state who had their lives turned upside down. They didn’t ask for a handout. They just asked for help and kept moving forward.
“I remember working closely with my late colleague and dear friend, Senator Frank Lautenberg, and we made it our number one priority to bring every available federal resource back to the victims of our state. And I continue to work with Senator Booker – who jumped head first into the fight from the moment he entered the Senate – to do the same.
“And to be clear, we had to fight from the very beginning. We had to fight a tea-party inspired opposition that was blocking the relief we so desperately needed. We had Senators and Congressmen who said “no” to disaster victims in New Jersey with one side of their mouth, while asking for federal funds when a disaster stuck their state with the other side.
“But ultimately, we overcame the calloused and ideological attacks and secured more than $50 billion for the region. These federal funds have been absolutely critical to our recovery, but mistakes by government agencies at the federal and state level have hindered our progress.
“But on this third anniversary of Sandy, I don’t come to the floor to point fingers at FEMA or the State or to play a blame game. This is not about politics or scapegoating, this is about continuing to do all we can to deliver for people – in every disaster – who still need help, and that requires cooperation and teamwork from all levels of government…
“One example of bipartisanship, was our effort to stop the draconian flood insurance rate increases that Sandy survivors were facing after the storm. These families were being confronted with skyrocketing premiums which threatened to take what the storm had not. In response, I led a broad, bipartisan collation from all parts of the country and passed legislation to stop these egregious hikes and restore fairness.
“A recovery requires more efforts just like this. It requires the state to be transparent and open to correcting any inefficiency that causes delays and for the Federal Government and every Federal agency to continue to step-up, step-in and make corrections when needed. It requires strong oversight and technical assistance from federal agencies like Housing and Urban Development.
“As we’ve seen in the past, this cooperation can result in significant improvement. For example, when I discovered that homeowners were being needlessly delayed from rebuilding because the State chose to conduct historical and environmental reviews at the end of the application process, I worked with then Secretary Donovan to clarify to the state that they could conduct these reviews at the front end of the application process, allowing victims to begin rebuilding sooner without jeopardizing their funding.
“This was a perfect example of eliminating unnecessary obstacles and inefficiencies, and I was proud to lead the charge. We always need to find more opportunities like this. We need HUD to continue to work with the state to discover these inefficiencies and get people fully restored. And it’s our responsibility to make the system and the process work for them.
“We cannot allow partisan and geographical politics into our nation’s disaster response priorities. There is a reason we call our nation the UNITED States of America. No matter where a disaster occurs, no matter if it was across the street or across the country, we come together as a nation ready to help.”