Sandy Victims Relay Frustration About Recovery

By Lauren Wanko

Lavallette resident Joanne Tornambe still wonders when she’ll ever get back home. Her beach bungalow was devastated by the storm.

“It’s incredibly frustrating,” Tornambe said.

Tornambe joined about 15 other storm victims for a roundtable discussion with Sen. Robert Menendez this afternoon. The senator plans to take their stories to Washington on Wednesday where he’ll chair a hearing on Superstorm Sandy recovery. These storm-weary residents eagerly await the second round of federal Sandy aid.

“I agreed as a person who championed this with a few colleagues to get this money in the first place to give significant flexibility to the state, thinking that would be the most streamlined and efficient process to achieve the goal. Now I’m not so sure at this point that was a wise decision,” Menendez said.

Tornambe applied for the RREM program. She was denied, but insists she met every requirement listed on the application.

“Then there was a little line that said ‘other factors,’ so we called to ask what the other factors could be but no one had answers,” Tornambe said.

The Lavallette homeowner called for months and appealed. She was put back on the waiting list but Joanne’s just as unsure about her wait list number. It’s somewhere between 2,501 and 3,000.

“The state Department of Community Affairs, I think they hire people not really trained in the whole process. They lose paperwork and everything and communication back when you have questions is just not there,” Michael Tornambe said.

Menendez also questions the Christie administration’s choice of contractors. The administration terminated its contract with HGI. Some of HGI’s duties included overseeing the application intake and facilitating the grants awards process for storm victims.

“The state managed to pay $51 million for less then eight months of work on a contract that was supposed to be $68 million total for three years. Something’s wrong with that,” said Menendez.

Moonachie resident Heidi Vojt is still hoping for grant money. Her message to state officials?

“Please get it together. There’s people out there like me and so many others that need this money,” Vojt said.

The secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is expected to testify on Wednesday. Menendez says he also invited a representative from the Christie Administration and that invitation was turned down.