News Column

4,600 Jersey Shore Apply for Sandy Aid, More Expected

May 29, 2013

Jersey Shore residents are wasting no time in applying for grants to help them rebuild from Hurricane Sandy.

About 4,600 applications were completed between Friday and Tuesday, said Richard Constable, Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. Another 1,000 applications still are being completed, he said.

Owners of Sandy-damaged houses can apply for two grants -- one to help pay for costs associated with rebuilding and elevating storm-damaged houses and another to encourage residents to remain in their towns or counties by offsetting nonconstruction costs. Houses must have been primary residences when Sandy struck Oct. 29 and homeowners must have registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency by May 1.

About 2,860 already have applied for the rebuilding and elevation grants, Constable said. About 1,830 have applied for "resettlement" grants that pay for nonconstruction costs, including future flood insurance increases.

The grants are part of a $1.8 billion allocation that comes from the $60 billion disaster aid package approved by Congress in January. Of the allocation, $780 million will go directly to homeowners.

The $600 million Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program provides as much as $150,000 for homeowners. This grant program, expected to be the most competitive, will pay only those costs that are not covered by other grants, loans or insurance reimbursements, Constable said. The average grant is likely to be about $100,000, he said

Grants under the $180 million Homeowner Resettlement Program are incentives to keep homeowners in their neighborhood or county, Constable said. Among the expenses the $10,000 grant covers are future flood insurance premiums, which are expected to rise for many homeowners due to congressional legislation passed last summer that phases out rate subsidies. Constable said this grant will be available to many more residents than the rebuilding grants because there are more grants available.

"There's a concern, and we saw this in Louisiana post Katrina, where people just got up and walked away from their communities because of all the damage there," Constable said. Using the money for future flood insurance costs is "another way we can encourage folks to return to their communities."

To be eligible for priority consideration, residents must file applications by June 30. While applications will be accepted after June 30, those won't be processed until after those with the most need in the first group have been processed. As homeowners apply, they will be assigned a random number that will determine their place in line. The DCA will prioritize applications based on need, which calculates the amount of damage, household income and location.

"We want those with the most damage to get assessed before folks that had the least damage," Constable said. "If you're making $250,000 a year, you're lower on the list than someone who is struggling financially."

Work under the rebuilding grants ultimately will be done by contractors on an approved list. In order to get on that list, contractors must be licensed, insured and bonded as well as prove they have experience in the work they are doing, Constable said.

Once a homeowner is selected for a rebuilding grant, Constable said, the state will send out someone to determine what kind of work needs to be done. Once that has been determined, the construction management firms hired by the state will seek bids on the jobs from three contractors on the approved list, he said. The contractor with the lowest bid will get the job.

The state will monitor progress and pay the money in increments, ensuring the job is completed and the work is done correctly, Constable said. DCA will open up the application process for contractors to get on the list later in June.

The time period from when the grant is awarded until construction begins will be between four and six weeks, because the state also will need to do the environmental and historical structure assessments that are required by the federal government, Constable said.

Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Hajna said the agency still is developing how it will conduct the assessments, including what will be needed.

The state will open centers in the counties that saw the most damage from Sandy, including Atlantic and Ocean, about June 8. There, residents can work on grant applications face-to-face with intake workers, Constable said. Eventually, residents also will be able to work on buy-out applications under the Department of Environmental Protection's Blue Acres program at the centers, the locations of which have yet to be announced.

Applications can be filed over the phone at 855-726-3946 or online at renewjerseystronger.org. To apply for the buyout program through Blue Acres, call 609-984-0500.



Source: Copyright Press of Atlantic City (NJ) 2013


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