By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
Forced indoors by rain, Gov. Chris Christie and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan took over a seafood restaurant in Highlands for a press conference.
Donovan announced the federal government is releasing today the first $1.8 billion in HUD assistance to New Jersey homeowners, renters and businesses.
“I am committed — this president is committed — to come back as often as we need to come back, rain or shine, until this town, this shore, this state and this entire region are rebuilt better, stronger than they were before the storm,” Donovan said.
The HUD money comes on top of $600 million already spent by FEMA in New Jersey, and $700 million by the Small Business Administration (SBA).
Gov. Christie said phase one of returning to normalcy is over. Today begins phase two.
“For the overwhelming majority of New Jerseyans, their life is back to normal. Sandy is a memory that will be evoked for them today on the six-month anniversary, but somthing that for most of them they’ve left behind. For those who have not been able to leave it behind, many people in this room, I could still see as I shook hands with people walking in here the emotion on their faces,” Christie said.
The governor promised his government would be a good steward of the federal money. After Katrina, he said, Lousianans took their checks and moved to Texas.
“One of the things we’re saying to folks here is that instead of just handing people checks, we’re gonna have lists of approved contractors. Those contractors will bid to take care of your house,” Christie said. “When you accept the bid from that contractor, we then will pay that contractor, so that we know the work’s getting done here in New Jersey, that homes are being rebuilt here in New Jersey and we’re not just handing checks to people to move someplace else.”
Christie and Donovan said their teams are working well together. Christie called it an example of cooperation the nation should follow.
He also called attention to fresh reports that New York paid the Army Corps of Engineers twice what New Jersey paid AshBritt to haul debris away, and accused The Star-Ledger of sitting on that fact for two weeks.
“What the public needs to understand is that the disgraceful bias of The Star-Ledger in their conduct on the AshBritt story has now been laid bare,” Christie said.
Christie’s message today to those affected by Sandy was — be patient. The light at the other end of the tunnel can be seen, he said, but it doesn’t mean we’re there yet.