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NJ Spotlight Reporter: Sandy Aid Distribution Raised Questions

7-21-14

Federal emergency funds have begun flowing to towns wrecked by Hurricane Sandy while some allege politics are at play in the process. NJ Spotlight Reporter Scott Gurian told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that about $25 million has come from FEMA.

“This is $25 million pot of money that comes from FEMA,” said Gurian. “The state is responsible for handing the money out and it’s supposed to be used for backup generators and other energy resiliency measures to make towns and cities more resilient to future storms.”

NJ Spotlight began investigating the distribution, analyzing the grant process beginning months ago, according to Gurian. A number of towns received portions of money and then Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer claimed that she felt that politics were involved and that her city and been shortchanged of aid, said Gurian. Upon looking into the cities and towns that received aid, Gurian said that some towns got the same amount as Hoboken but that the more he looked into it, something didn’t add up.

“Little tiny towns, place like Mount Arlington and Old Tappan, which had hardly any flooding from Sandy or past storms, got the same amount as Hoboken. Things didn’t seem right,” Gurian said. “And so the big breakthrough came when we actually obtained access to a copy of the state’s internal score sheet which they use to determine which towns and cities would get how much. And then looking at the actual numbers, we saw that the scoring was handled incorrectly according to the state’s own methods.”

After going through the numbers, Gurian said that it’s hard to say what went on behind the scenes. According to Gurian, the analysis looked at towns and cities that have had close relationships with Trenton and towns that got more through the scoring.

A second batch of aid money is set to be distributed for emergency backup generators and other items to maintain the power grid in floods. According to Gurian, the state has announced that more additional backup generators will be for shelters, police and fire stations.

As for allegations that money is being delayed or held and not being passed out, Gurian said that it has been a complicated process not only with the Sandy aid grant process, but with many others.

“I think it’s been a complicated process. Not just with this grant program but with many grant programs,” said Gurian. “There’s a lot going on behind the scenes. This whole process has taken a lot longer than I think anyone would have liked whether it’s towns or cities or individuals. Many people are still waiting for aid money and they may still be waiting for a while and it’s hard to kind of draw a simple conclusion. It was this reason or that reason, it’s a myriad of different things that have contributed to that.”