“Sandy Bill of Rights” Tour Underway [AUDIO]
As Superstorm Sandy victims continue to voice their frustrations about the recovery process, the leader of the state Senate is pushing for legislation that should make the process more "user-friendly."
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) started his "Sandy Bill of Rights" tour in Perth Amboy on Wednesday, attacking the Christie administration's progress so far and taking comments from the public.
"This program, up to this point, has been a colossal failure," Sweeney said. "It's been nearly 16 months since the storm, and people still do not have the aid they need. In many cases, they don't even have answers to the most basic of questions. This is why we need a 'Sandy Bill of Rights.'"
The legislation, introduced late last month, would offer transparency and real-time updates to those going through the lengthy and cumbersome course of rebuilding their lives following Sandy. Affected residents would be treated to a "plain-language explanation of what is needed to be eligible and to apply for Sandy recovery programs," and the right to know where their relief applications stand.
"Imagine being on a waiting list, and you don't know if you're number one or 8,000," Sweeney said.
George Bonilla, a resident of Perth Amboy for more than four decades, has not been in his home since the storm hit and water overturned the oil tank in his basement, causing an environmental hazard.
"We tried to apply for different programs to see if we can get any help, and we just seem to always hit a wall," said Bonilla, who's currently paying rent on his temporary housing while also keeping up with the mortgage on his primary residence. "I'm not asking for a million dollars. I just want to be able to pay my rent or fix my house and just continue with my life."
While admitting there is no "playbook" for handling a storm such as Sandy, the Christie administration has pointed to the federal government when asked about delays and red tape surrounding aid distribution. Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development would not allow New Jersey officials to waive the requirement that people applying for help stop work on their homes.
The administration took public comment last week on the state's plans to spend the next round of federal Sandy aid. Roughly half of the $1.4 billion would be devoted to housing programs.