By Lauren Wanko
“We’ve never done this before,” said Gov. Chris Christie. “We’re all learning as we go along here, and we’re continuing to get better at administering the programs.”
Christie was in Toms River today meeting with some victims of Hurricane Sandy and giving an update about the Sandy Working Families Living Expenses Voucher Program. But the governor found himself explaining how the administration is handling the distribution of federal Sandy relief funds.
“Remember this. This state government budget is about $33 billion annually, you’re talking about us now standing a parallel set of programs, to spend $15 to $20 billion in addition to that with a lot of the same people running the government everyday, running this,” Christie said.
“There’s a lot more that needs to be done from the state, from the feds, everywhere,” said People’s Pantry Executive Director Patricia Donaghue.
Donaghue runs the People’s Pantry in Toms River, which serves more than 6,000 people a month still struggling from Superstorm Sandy.
And still struggling to understand why they’ve been denied Sandy relief grant programs, says Donaghue.
“I got thousands of clients. I know two that got RREM — thousands and only two have gotten RREM. It’s heartbreaking. This is my community, these are my neighbors,” Donaghue said.
“It is a very difficult job, a challenging job to try to figure out. When you have $37 billion in damage and only $15 to $20 billion to pay for those damages, what’s a fair and equitable way to be able to distribute that money so that the most people get help and the people who need it the most get that help?” asked Christie.
Courtney Shibbaro helps run the People’s Pantry.
“I do sense a lot of people are frustrated with the delay in funds, that they thought it would come a lot quicker,” said Shibbaro, the People’s Pantry community outreach coordinator.
The Sandy Working Families Living Expenses Voucher Program provides up to $15,000 for mortgage, rent, utility payments and essential households items over a period of six months. The administration says so far 7,300 storm victims have received assistance in the form of direct payments to billing agencies and vouchers for essential household items.
“So this is a piece where people are in the process of rebuilding but they need to have a separate residence from their home they are rebuilding. This is paying for that mortgage for example. This is providing kind of an exhale for them while they are in the process of recovery,” said New Jersey Department of Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez.
The governor was there for more than an hour defending his policies. He took no questions from the public or the media.