Officials Question Sandy Aid Distribution

By Briana Vannozzi

One point eight billion dollars. That’s how much the federal government allocated to New Jersey for Sandy disaster relief funds. And members of the Assembly state and local government committee today asked why it’s taking so long to track the spending.

“Where has that money gone? How has it been spent? There is no easy way to be able to figure that out, to go and find that information so that they have confidence it’s been used well and that it is in fact being spent properly,” said Assemblywoman Linda Stender.

The treasurer’s office says it’s been a lengthy process jumping over federal hurdles and sifting through applicants.

“Before we actually release that procurement on the street for bidding it has to go through the comptroller for approval to make sure it’s consistent with law. OK so they’ve got all that information on the state side. The local side, I do not believe they have that authority. So, I’m not sure what local contracts you’re going to see. That’s what makes this law a little difficult in implementing is we rely on them to give us the information,” said Associate Deputy Treasurer Dave Ridolfino.

Stender, who heads the committee, says that won’t cut it.

“The money is being spent, lives are on hold waiting. HUD has been clear about the fact that they believe that there were monitors in place and reports being made. The question is why are they not sharing what they’ve got?” Stender asked.

Under the provision — A-60 as it’s called — the Department of Treasury chooses from a pool of 34 firms that have been pre-qualified to become potential oversight monitors. To date, only eight projects across the state are being monitored.

“Those eight projects total more than $359 million. Right now, either today or tomorrow, NJ Transit is in front of their board. There will be four additional monitors will be assigned which total about $450 million,” Ridolfino said.

The state came under fire for lack of transparency in January after it quietly severed ties with a Louisiana-based firm hired to handle the recovery money. That was after months of complaints from homeowners about mismanagement of funds and long delays.

“We discovered that there was an 80 percent error rate in the denials. We discovered that four out of five people who were denied funding under the RREM and resettlement programs were wrongly denied,” said Fair Share Housing Center Attorney Kevin Walsh.

Legislators and the treasurer’s office will have to wait until July 1 for the first quarterly report. That’s because the law states that findings don’t have to be submitted until the monitor has completed at least three months of work.