TOMS RIVER, New Jersey — More than two years after Superstorm Sandy hit the Jersey Shore, many residents remain angry and frustrated at the pace of recovery.
During a public hearing Tuesday on the state's plans to use the final $502 million in federal storm recovery aid, many homeowners said money to help them rebuild is moving too slowly or not at all. Doug Quinn, a single father from Toms River, said New Jersey has failed its recovery mission.
"I'm living in a rental for two years, and I'm going under," he said. "I'm paying flood insurance on a home I can't live in. You need to do a better job. You need to get people home quicker. We deserve better."
New Jersey plans to use most of its final Sandy aid to get money to all 1,800 homeowners on a waiting list for rebuilding assistance. Terry Brody, the state's storm czar, said New Jersey has gotten more than $1 billion in federal Community Development Block Grant funds into the hands of storm victims.
"We've tried to streamline the process as much as we can, but the fact of the matter is construction takes time, and when you layer all the federal requirements on top of it, such as historical and environmental review, we understand it takes a long time," he said. "We have years to go before everything is completely rebuilt."
Cheryl Bozinis of Bayville said many of her neighbors still are not back in their homes.
"That's the intent of this money, right? To rebuild?" she asked. "There's so much money coming here and it sounds fantastic, but it's not getting into the right hands. Our governor, he has a mouth. I know he can get this done. He needs to take action."
Denise Vaccaro of Lacey Township asked how many state officials overseeing Sandy aid were able to spend Christmas in their own homes — something she couldn't do.
"We need help desperately," she said. "We're mentally, physically, financially hurting. We're begging with you, pleading with you, crying, going to counseling."
Frances Accardi said she has been living in a trailer since the storm, and wore five layers of clothing to Tuesday's hearing to stay warm on a snowy day. Her home had to be demolished, but has not yet been rebuilt. And Joe Karcz of Manahawkin has been working for two years to rebuild his small home while sparring with the storm-aid bureaucracy.
"The mistakes, the ongoing delays, it's enough to make a normal person suffer a nervous breakdown," he said. "We've got to keep battling, battling. They're trying to wear us down. Every time I go back, there's a new person."
Therese Daldone said she is being billed for water and sewer service on her ruined home in Brick Township that doesn't even have pipes in it.
"We're going into another year and nothing's been resolved," she said. "We're unable to fix our home. Help us! Give us the money. I still need to pay rent, storage, double-everything."
According to the state Department of Community Affairs, as of Dec. 31, there were 4,097 homes under construction as part of the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation program, New Jersey's primary aid for Sandy rebuilding; 328 homes have been finished under the program.
More than 5,800 homeowners have signed grant award agreements, and environmental reviews have been completed for 7,865. The state says this will allow funding to flow more quickly as final-round funds become available after their anticipated May approval.
Buyout offers have been made to 511 homeowners in flood-prone areas; 354 have accepted, and 261 sales have closed.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC
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