Rep. Pallone: Sandy Recovery Lacks Transparency

Hurricane Sandy recovery has been at the top of mind recently with a Monmouth University Asbury Park Press poll finding that fewer New Jerseyans are satisfied with the recovery effort. Ocean Grove has won its appeal to FEMA and will be receiving aid to rebuild its boardwalk. Congressman Frank Pallone told NJTV News Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he’s happy Ocean Grove won its appeal, but he’s disappointed with the transparency of the entire process.

According to Pallone, since Ocean Grove is a religious community, it often has trouble getting government assistance. “When we were trying to get money to redo the Ocean Grove Auditorium years ago, initially that was disqualified,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is, even though it’s still the Camp Meeting Association, the boardwalk and the facilities are used by everybody and open to everyone, so I always felt that it wasn’t fair to zero it out and say that they shouldn’t get money because of their religious affiliation. So thankfully the money came through.”

Pallone said the problem with the Sandy recovery process is a lack of transparency. “When HGI was out there and they had the $65 million contract, they ended up working I think for seven months of a three-year contract and got $35 million and we didn’t know that they were terminated or what exactly they were doing. And I think it contributed to the delays and all the problems we had in getting the money to the people, the businesses,” he said.

After HGI was terminated, Pallone said DCA Commissioner Richard Constable had said the state was going to handle the next round. “Then all of a sudden, a few weeks ago, we heard that ICF, which is another company that had a bad track record in Louisiana after Katrina and wasn’t rehired there, is now basically taking over for HGI and gonna administer most of the block grants for people to rebuild their homes,” said Pallone.

Pallone said he asked HUD to step in and create better guidelines to make sure that the process is done properly. “The biggest problem is people don’t know how to be eligible for these programs. They’re put on a waiting list, they don’t know how long they’re on it, or when they get off the waiting list. And then if they’re denied and they want to appeal, they don’t know the process for appeal,” he said. “It’s very challenging.”

Pallone participated in a presentation for middle school students warning them about the dangers of the internet. “I just don’t think they’re necessarily aware of the privacy problems. And so Google’s having this roadshow where they basically explain you have to think before you put things on the internet. And also teach them how to use privacy settings and to redo your password from time to time because there’s various ways to try to protect your privacy,” he explained.

According to Pallone, informing students about the dangers is important. “I just don’t think they’re aware that they can put things online that ultimately may be used against them if they’re applying for a job or applying for college,” he said. “I’m not so sure that young people know what to do. And they’re also very idealistic and don’t realize that there are predators out there that may be after them for god knows what reason.”