Federal officials talk of options victims have to rebuild

TRENTON – Federal officials said Monday more than $199 million in assistance has been provided so far, $193 million of it housing assistance, for Hurricane Sandy victims.

Officials from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Red Cross discussed the devastation Monday afternoon, primarily in the New York City area, that has left hundreds of thousands of people homeless, powerless, and in some cases frustrated with the bureaucracy they are encountering.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said about 217,000 people have registered for housing assistance and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said 160,000 families have applied for help.

But federal officials Monday afternoon also had to field press inquiries related to residents’ complaints of being turned down for help.

The officials said that rebuilding assistance is for those who lack insurance or who have uncovered losses, which is why next-door neighbors applying for aid may receive different answers when they seek help.

Assistance is not based on the amount of damage, they said, but on what needs are uncovered and on someone’s ability to pay.

HUD’s Donovan said there are nearly 1,000 homes available for rent, and people should go to the web portal developed with FEMA after Hurricane Katrina to find out more.

In addition, he said, there is a temporary moratorium in place on foreclosures. “We don’t want families to be victimized twice,” he said.

He cautioned victims not to make the mistake many Hurricane Katrina victims made years ago; assistance is to be used to rebuild, it is not to be used to make mortgage payments.

In addition, they said they are going to work with municipalities so the towns can use federal Community Development Block Grant funds to repair streets and other infrastructure.

Donovan talked of visiting damage in the New York City area over the weekend. “What I saw was sobering,” he said. “Communities were devastated.  I also saw remarkable courage and strength that is the hallmark of New Yorkers and residents of the entire region.”

"This meeting is entirely off the record. Until somebody leaks it."
—Michael Kempner, addressing a roomful of Democratic powerbrokers organizng for Hillary Clinton