It looks like Chris Christie and his administration are using federally granted Hurricane Sandy relief funds in some questionable ways.
For the second time in the past week, it has been revealed that millions of dollars in Sandy relief funds are being used on real estate projects in areas hardly affected by the storm. First, NJ.com reported that $6 million in aid was spent building a senior citizen complex in Belleville, New Jersey. Belleville was ranked as just the 254th hardest hit town in New Jersey by Hurricane Sandy. It was noted that Belleville Mayor Raymond Kimble was a heavy endorser of Christie during his last campaign.
Yesterday, NBC New York reported that $4.8 million in federal aid was being spent building an apartment tower in New Brunswick, another area hardly affected by Hurricane Sandy. New Brunswick ranks as only the 188th most damaged town by Sandy.
The news becomes even more noteworthy when you learn that the apartment tower is being built by Boraie Development LLC. The Boraie family has been a major contributor to Christie campaigns in the past.
Christie and his administration must realize that the use of federal aid on both projects look questionable at best, especially given the self-serving ties Christy has to the people overseeing the developments.
Anthony Marchetta, head of New Jersey’s Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, glossed over questions from NBC New York asking if the projects represented a wise use of federal aid.
“We made an announcement to the development community that if you have any projects in those nine counties [where an emergency was declared] that would generate affordable housing, bring 'em on,” he said.
Marchetta’s answer here is less than satisfying given the legitimate questions being raised. This is especially true in light of what Hoboken, New Jersey mayor Dawn Zimmer told MSNBC in an interview about her town's experience with obtaining federal aid from Christie’s administration. Zimmer said the governor’s administration did not award enough aid to Hoboken, and that what they were given was withheld until Zimmer agreed to approve a new skyscraper in the city.
“The bottom line is, it’s not fair for the governor to hold Sandy funds hostage for the City of Hoboken because he wants me to give back to one private developer,” Zimmer said. "...I know it’s very complicated for the public to really understand all of this, but I have a legal obligation to follow the law, to bring balanced development to Hoboken.”
It looks like New Jersey isn’t taking any chances when it comes to preparing the state for emergencies.
The state announced today that they spent $870,000 on three feeding trucks than can feed up to 2,500 people per hour in the event of an emergency. The purchase comes one year after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the coastal communities of New Jersey.
The trucks are 40 feet long and 13 feet wide. They were built by Custom Mobile Food Equipment of Hammonton, and are believed to be the first of their kind in the country.
“In the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, volunteer organizations provided over 4.5 million meals in the impacted counties,” said Department of Homeland Security State Commissioner Jennifer Velez in a press release. “The ability to quickly prepare food for individuals during an emergency is critical, and these unique vehicles will enhance the state’s response.”
The trucks come equipped with two large diesel generators and two propane tanks, eliminating the need for electricity to run. Each truck contains two large refrigerators, three built-in freezers, two 30 gallon tilting skillets, four sinks, a bathroom, and on board waste and water holding tanks.
More than 11 months after Hurricane Sandy wreaked devastation on New York City, as well as other regions along the coast of the U.S. northeast, hundreds of New Yorkers are still without permanent homes. But the federal government has had enough of those people.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency wants approximately 350 victims of the storm to move out of the hotels where they’ve been housed since October of 2012 — and into homeless shelters.
On October 22 of last year, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record ripped through the northeast, causing billions of dollars in destruction in New York and New Jersey. Coastal areas in New York boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island were especially hard hit.
Since the hurricane, FEMA has paid for many victims who lost their homes to stay in hotels around the city. With their homes beyond repair and no money to find new places to live, many of them, largely low-income residents, are still there.
The federal government has paid $73 million to house the hurricane victims so far, but now it says it can’t spend any more money on them, the New York Times reports.
“I’m not going to no more shelters — I’ve been there and done that,” said an emotional Nicole Neal, 39, who was homeless for more than two years before being able to afford an apartment in Far Rockaway, Queens — only to see the apartment destroyed by Sandy.
She has lived in a Brooklyn Holiday Inn since the storm. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t want to think about it.”
By May of this year, about 3,000 people who had been living in hotels were able to return to homes, or went to live in other public housing.
Now, however, the city is taking a look at those remaining in hotels and arguing, in court documents, that, “it makes no sense for the city to continue to house evacuees in hotels when they can be housed within the city shelter system for a fraction of the cost and can continue to receive the same support, services and access to programs they are provided while in the hotel program.”
SOURCES: New York Times, UPI
The floodwaters in Colorado are receding, leaving behind the wreckage of family homes and destroyed businesses. Naturally, the embattled state has turned to the federal government for disaster relief. President Obama declared a state of emergency on Sunday, and was encouraged to do so by the nine-member Colorado Congressional delegation. However, according to ThinkProgress.org, four Colorado Republican representatives who signed the letter to the President, voted against federal relief for the areas devastated by Super Storm Sandy last year, which left many in New York and New Jersey without power for days.
Of course, this isn’t the first time the Colorado Republican delegation has contradicted the position they took for Sandy relief, when in July they sought disaster relief for wildfires that raged in southern Colorado. Many see their position as hypocritical, especially those that remember that the first measure for Sandy relief was denied a vote the House, in part because of the Colorado delegation’s opposition. Almost two weeks later, the bill did pass the House, but for a smaller amount. It certainly did not help matters that the two parties were in a brutal fight over the budget, which led to the eventual sequestration.
Still, FEMA needs all the help they can get. However, they aren’t accepting some of the help they are being offered. In an effort to help change the story about the use of civilian drones, Falcon UAV employees were threatened with arrest if caught flying drones over the flood-damaged areas. Falcon UAV had been volunteering its efforts, and their drones, to help map the affected areas and could do so more efficiently over rough terrain than manned vehicles. Also, many experts are suggesting that floods like these many be the “new normal,” because of climate change, a phenomenon the Colorado Republicans continue to deny.
Hurricane Sandy swept away 54 percent of Fire Island, part of Long Island’s barrier islands, according to a study from the U.S. Geological Survey.
Only 14 percent of the sand from New York's Fire Island was washed inland. The majority was carried offshore, LiveScience reported.
While 18 percent of the sand from the 75-mile barrier islands has been replenished, it is still missing 40 percent of the sand it had before.The beach has moved 189 feet inland, according to Newser.
"We surveyed the beach system again in June and we're seeing even more recovery," said Cheryl Hapke, a geologist for the USGS and lead study author.
Beaches can recover relatively quickly, but Hapke told LiveScience that sand dunes take much longer to replenish. Sand dunes are, in fact, the island’s best defense against a major storm.
"In areas where the dunes weren't completely demolished, we have seen substantial sand start to pile up from the wind on those dunes," Hapke said. "Dunes take years to build back up, whereas beaches take a season. Wind is a longer process than one driven by water and waves."
"Overall, Hurricane Sandy profoundly impacted the morphology of Fire Island and resulted in an extremely low elevation, low relief configuration that has left the barrier island vulnerable to future storms, although the beach is likely to experience continued recovery in the form of volume gains, the dunes will take years to rebuild,” the study said, according to Newser.
Rising beach elevation is protection against storm surge. Anything standing between inhabited areas and the water will slow down a hurricane. One of most detrimental aspects of vanishing wetlands in Louisiana, which was pummelled by Hurricane Katrina almost 8 years ago today, is the fact that the wetlands acted as a buffer between New Orleans and the high-wind storms.
The barrier islands should shift and migrate depending on sea levels, Hapke said. While it shifted inland after Sandy, she believes the storm damaged actually moved the islands to where they can best protest the shore in the future.
Out on the campaign trail, New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner traveled to Staten Island Friday to meet with victims of Hurricane Sandy.
The mayoral hopeful is eager to place something else in the spotlight after new allegations of sexting emerged last week, but retired school teacher Peg Brunda was not having it.
Weiner toured the destroyed, beachfront home of Joseph Cardinale. Neighbors also shared their harrowing Sandy stories.
“One of the reasons why we’re here today is that I knew that now, you’re gonna come with me. And you should see this,” Weiner told a hoard of reporters who followed him around. “There is this notion because the cameras had left, because some of the headlines changed, that the problem was solved. But for many, many people, they are still dealing with the challenge.”
When asked if homeowner Cardinale would vote for Weiner, he said he did not know who he would support for mayor.
Brunda did not warm up to Weiner either. She was a school teacher for 21 years and an assistant principal for nine.
“I don’t quite understand how you would feel you’d have the moral authority, as the head administrator in this city, to oversee employees, when your standard of conduct is so much lower than the standard of conduct that is expected of us,” Brunda said.
Weiner asked if she would vote for him and she refused.
“I want to let your neighbors make their decisions for themselves,” Weiner said.
Staten Islander Fran Lagana said she could not vote for Weiner either.
“Any political entity, we should be able to look up to them,” Lagana told the NY Daily News.
An 84-year-old war veteran was recently denied Hurricane Sandy aid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Why was he denied aid? Because he was staying with his son in New Jersey when the hurricane struck and not in his Staten Island home.
Vito Colluci Sr. was diagnosed with dementia two years ago and has lived with his son in Neptune, N.J., ever since. His son, Vito Colluci Jr., planned on fixing up the home and selling the property. Colluci Jr., 61, filed an application with FEMA just three days after Sandy on Nov. 1. Within a week, FEMA denied the claim.
“They said because my father didn’t live here, owner or not, it doesn’t matter," Colucci Jr. said. "It’s a second home, so he doesn’t qualify for aid. I said, ‘The guy is sick. He hasn’t got a second home.’ It's not like you’re talking to somebody that has a ton of money.”
Vito Sr. owns only one house, the one on New Dorp Beach in Staten Island, which he has owned for more than 25 years. He moved in with his son so he could monitor his health.
“One day he tells me that he’s got another son like me, but the guy was a little bit better looking,” Colucci Jr. said. “I said, ‘Dad, that's me.’ He says, ‘No,’ so I take out an old picture and he says, ‘That’s him!’ I said that’s me when I was younger.”
His 35-year-old grandson and his wife moved into his Staten Island home during that period. The Daily News did not report whether the couple filed a separate FEMA claim on the home, but it appears the damaged property has not had any repairs.
Colucci Jr. said most of the furniture was ruined by the 3-foot flood waters that inundated the house. He said because the FEMA application was denied, he was unable to get an estimate for the total damages to the home.
Looking back, Colucci Jr. wishes he had not disclosed on his father’s application that he had been living with him in New Jersey.
“I was trying to tell the truth, and look what happened,” Colucci Jr. said. “I’m a loyal American and when they needed me to step up, I joined the service. Now we’re penalized for not playing the game.”
Standing on the property at Winham Avenue, Colucci Sr. said, “We used to all have parties out here and the neighbors would come and bring food. I wish it was like how it was before. Now it’s all gone.”
FEMA spokesman, Ray Perez, said the family could appeal the denial of aid.
“That’s why we say everything is case by case,” Perez said. “Where your primary residence is at the time of the disaster is the main thing. That can affect the application.”
Americans affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 understand the headache of dealing with FEMA. Too well.
In 2011, FEMA sent out 83,000 notice-of-debt letters to recoup assistance it sent out to Katrina survivors. The people, most of whom were displaced or moved in the six years since the storm, were asked to prove they lived in New Orleans (or the hurricane-affected area) on Aug. 29, 2005. To do so, they were asked to provide utility bills, addressed envelopes, copies of a license or something showing their address in 2005. Most people do not retain such records after five years, let alone people who lost everything they owned in a massive flood.
“I nearly had a stroke,” said 63-year-old David Bellinger, who moved to Atlanta after Katrina destroyed his New Orleans home. “I’m totally blind. I subsist entirely on a Social Security disability check. If I have to pay this money back, it would pretty much wipe out all the savings I have.”
The “debt” was about $4,622 per recipient.
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh called the mutual respect between President Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie a master-servant relationship this week, after the two walked the Jersey Shore boardwalk discussing Hurricane Sandy relief.
"Obama has money," Limbaugh said. "Governor Christie wants the money. Governor Christie needs the money, so the people will be helped.”
And thus: "So, Christie praises Obama. It's a master-servant relationship."
Limbaugh mocked what he defined as the liberal definition of bipartisanship: liberal masters ruling over conservative slaves. He scolded Christie especially for acting as a “Greek column” by supporting Obama’s presidency.
Supporting Obama now could improve Christie’s bipartisan standing in the next presidential election. Likewise, highlighting the efforts of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and government success could clear the air for a scandal-plagued White House.
Almost seven months after Hurricane Sandy slammed the northeast coast, the American Red Cross says more than a third of the $303 million fund raised for storm victims still hasn’t been spent.
While some say the leftover money means smart planning on their part, others say the Red Cross failed to respond to the disaster with proper urgency and left the long-haul efforts for storm recovery to others.
The humanitarian organization says it’s still sitting on about $110 million in Sandy aid.
"The Red Cross has never been a recovery operation. Their responsibility has always been mass care," said Ben Smilowitz, executive director of the Disaster Accountability Project. "Stick with what you're good at."
Homeowners could have used more help from the Red Cross last winter, said Kathleen McCarthy, director of the Center for the Study of Philanthropy and Civil Society at the City University of New York.
"People were cold. Homes mildewed. There wasn't enough decent housing," McCarthy said. "Given the lingering despair, it's hard to understand the argument that 'We are setting that money aside.'"
Officials said the money was put aside as they waited to see which states were the hardest-hit.
"We are waiting to see where the greatest need is going to be over time," said Josh Lockwood, CEO of the Red Cross Greater New York Region. "We are more concerned with spending our resources wisely rather than quickly."
The question is whether people who donated to the Red Cross to “Help disaster victims,” as it says on their website, realized the organization’s limitations.
The Red Cross raised $15 million in donations for tornado victims in Oklahoma, as of Thursday, including a $1 million donation from NBA player Kevin Durant.
The organization said all the money raised for Sandy will still be spent on relief and not diverted to other disasters. It expects to spend $27 million in the coming months on a program for “move-in assistance” grants that would give displaced families up to $10,000.
"Our experience shows that as the recovery goes on, the needs of survivors will evolve," said Red Cross senior vice president Roger Lowe. "It's important to make sure some money is available for those needs no one can predict right now."
A teen from Brooklyn is graduating at the top of his class next month despite caring for a sick mother, younger brother, and 14 nieces and nephews.
Luis Hernandez’s Red Hook housing project suffered extensive damage after Hurricane Sandy. Living without power, hot water and heat for weeks, Hernandez, 18, still managed to earn a full scholarship to the University of Southern California.
Hernandez finished with the highest grade point average of any senior at the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies since the school’s first class graduated in 2009. He also became one of five recipients of the $5,000 Bryan Cave LLP Edward I. Koch Scholarship.
“I don’t have words to say how proud I am of him. He’s accomplished so much,” said his mother, Frances Velez. “He’s a loving son. He’s been there for me — especially in my sickness. He’s the type of person that if you need him, he’s there.”
He hasn’t decided on a major, but Hernandez has an interest in film and storytelling.
Last year, the teen starred in an autobiographical film called “The Tale of Jimmy Two Chins.” Hernandez began his freshman year at 300 pounds and lost at least 50 pounds through hard work and determination.
The movie premiered on Showtime and will be screened at the Hoboken International Film Festival next week.
Hernandez is the first of his family to enroll in college. He’s never even seen USC’s Los Angeles campus.
Until last year, Hernandez had never been on a plane. Then he spent the summer in South Africa doing community service.
“Kids in Red Hook don’t have belief in themselves. When I first told them that I wanted to go to college, they said, ‘Yo, you’re from Red Hook. You live here, you die here,’” he said.
“Those kind of things motivated me to take my first steps past the BQE.”
Source: NY Post