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Sen. Menendez: Feds Not to Blame for Sandy Relief Aid Issues

3-12-14

The Christie administration may be blaming the federal government for many Sandy relief problems but there is some return fire when it comes to who is to blame. Sen. Robert Menendez told NJTV News Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the federal government is not to blame because numerous problematic decisions were made by the state.

“My goal today in holding a hearing on Sandy recovery with the secretary of HUD, with the Fair Share Housing Associates, with one of the mayors from one of the communities that were impacted down the shore, is to determine what the facts are and what the facts lead us to,” Menendez said.

He said that it was not the federal government that hired HGI and gave it $50 million for about seven months of work.

“It’s not the federal government that has made a process in which the determination as to if you eligible or not for federal dollars, which means that you need an environmental and historical survey which the secretary of HUD testified only takes two weeks; at the max takes six weeks. That’s not the months that people have been waiting for a determination. It’s not the federal government that made the decision to back-end that… It was the state’s decision. There is no federal prohibition about making those reviews upfront so that people get an answer right away,” Menendez said.

He also said that the federal government did not put out a waiting list for the money or put out misinformation and did not add critical information on Spanish language website. Those were state decisions as well, according to Menendez.

“What we really need here is to know what went wrong. Let’s fix it, let’s move forward, let’s find a way to ultimately get people answers and money and get them to be able to rebuild their homes. That is the goal I was trying to achieve today,” said Menendez.

Menendez said that he fought for the $50 billion of Sandy money to rebuild in the beginning and he believed that it was right to give the state the flexibility to administer the federal money because he thought it would expedite the process to get the money to the people so they could rebuild faster and get their lives back together again.

“Unfortunately it seems that a series of decisions made by the state has not expedited the process, but 500 days after Sandy still has people waiting to get a simple answer as for whether they qualify or not. There are common threads here of things that have gone wrong and they have gone wrong through determinations of the state to administer the federal dollars in certain ways. I just want to fix that because we are on the verge of coming up with $1.4 billion for the state of New Jersey and I don’t want to see that money go to the state if we are going to have the same delays and process, that still don’t have clear transparency,” said Menendez.

The money is going to come to the state with a series of standards that will ensure that the same errors, mistakes and consequences that were made with HGI are not made again, according to Menendez. He said that operators that citizens called about their applications were told not to tell the citizens the status of their application if asked.

“Eighty percent of people whose claims were denied by HGI, when they appealed they won, so something was wrong. We need to fix that and I am not going to rest until we have a process that is open, fair, transparent, effective so that the money I fought for, that people in New Jersey need, gets to them,” Menendez said.