Governor Christie Focuses on Sandy Recovery
By Erin O’Neil
March 25, 2014
Gov. Chris Christie today fielded a question about the state’s major Hurricane Sandy rebuilding grant program.
He addressed grievances over flood insurance and outlined the plan for fortifying New Jersey’s beaches against future storms.
The governor’s 116th town hall meeting in a Belmar gymnasium today was a glimpse into the lengthy list of concerns that still exist nearly a year and a half after Sandy made landfall.
“I know there are still problem that need to be dealt with,” Christie said. “This has not gone perfectly, far from it.”
Therese Daidone came to Belmar looking for answers about when she may move off the waiting list for the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation grant. Daidone, whose home in Brick was destroyed during Sandy, said she was ranked between 2,000 and 2,500 on the program’s waiting list, “which means nothing to me.”
“When will I be accepted into the program?” she asked Christie. “If I don’t get the RREM grant, how do I get money in my mailbox because my insurance company gave me a third of what I need.”
Christie said the next round of aid from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is expected to reach New Jersey by the end of April. He told Daidone the “overwhelmingly likelihood” is that she would be moved off the waiting list at that point.
“The torture in all this is we’re not being provided the information. So I’m playing a waiting game,” Daidone said after the meeting. “There’s no answers, definitive answers, of when I’m going to receive any help or if I will.”
Protesters have interrupted recent town hall meetings, criticizing the governor over two scandals that have engulfed his administration: the closure of access lane to the George Washington Bridge and the allegation that top Christie officials withheld Sandy aid from Hoboken because the town’s mayor didn’t back a certain redevelopment project.
Today, Christie was met with a mostly friendly crowd and the protesters stayed outside.
Two Jersey Shore business owners and a representative from New Jersey Main Street Alliance said before the meeting that a state-run business grant program is failing to get help where it needs to go. Main Street Alliance is a coalition of small businesses.
Ken Akerman, a 37-year-old business owner from Point Pleasant Beach, said he applied for the $50,000 grant after his business, Ocean Towers & Welding, went underwater during Sandy.
He said he hasn’t received any aid and he doesn’t know where his application stands.
“I have called so many times. I’m sure people have done a lot more than I have because I’m to the point where I’m like giving up,” he said.
The New Jersey Economic Development Authority runs the business grant program. Virginia Pellerin, a spokeswoman for the agency, said “due to changes we have made to the application and review process, we have seen a considerable uptick in approvals, and expect that trend to continue.”
Christie said in the town hall that the state has helped hundreds of thousands of people recover from Sandy, but he understands it “doesn’t matter unless you’ve been helped.”
“You need to know that it doesn’t matter to me until you’re helped,” he said. “I’m happy about the good things we’ve done but I am not content.”