By Jody Stewart from Little Egg Harbor
I can clearly remember the day I was told that I was being hit with a clawback, a letter from the RREM Program asking me for thousands of dollars in grant money to be returned. Grant money that I needed—and already used—to rebuild my home after Superstorm Sandy. How could this happen? I followed all the rules of the RREM program. I spent more money than they gave me, and didn’t upgrade anything. If anything, I had to downgrade to be within the bounds of RREM’s rules. Despite all this, I was being told I needed to show another $20,000 worth of receipts. I once again went through all my receipts and looked for anything that I may not have sent them, including rebuilding work that my town required me to do that was not within my scope of work.
My clawback was removed once they saw that I was within the boundaries. But for many others, their clawbacks still have yet to be forgiven, stranding them with a debt that they can’t and shouldn’t have to pay, for a disaster that they didn’t ask for. That was 6 years ago. Since then, I have stood up with many of you to obtain clawback forgiveness for all Sandy survivors. Over 1700 households are being asked to return more than $70 million back to RREM.
Our focus this Spring – is on moving clawback forgiveness at the state level by having the state appropriate the funds to repay the federal government. NJ has unspent Covid-19 aid funds1, and historic budget highs2. We think it’s high time to let families off the hook for impacts of a broken disaster recovery system. BIG thank you to everyone who signed our petition at the end of last year, and the members who delivered them.
Assemblyman Rumpf, Assemblywoman Gove and Senator Connnors from legislative district 9 have reintroduced a clawback forgiveness bill (S1700/A723). We’re working together to make this the strongest possible bill and then get the broadest possible support to pass this by JUNE!
We want to make sure this bill covers as many people as possible and works for us. We have plenty of work ahead of us to get this bill to the finish line, but I know we are strong and will work together to make clawback forgiveness a reality.
AND! We’ve had some renewed luck with members directly approaching RREM to have their clawbacks reduced and forgiven this year. We detail that more in this oldie but goodie – but if you’ve never tried, or you’ve tried before, we’d encourage you to try again to work with RREM to get your clawback reduced.
We won an extension of two more years to spend federal Sandy funds: We are grateful for champions like Congressman Pallone, Congresswoman Watson-Coleman and Congressman Kim for doing their very best to get clawback forgiveness into the federal omnibus bill. Unfortunately, despite their efforts, what was included in the house didn’t make it into the Senate. The culprit? Party politics as usual.
Joe Mangino, Board President of New Jersey Organizing Project said,“Storms just don’t just hit Democrats or Republicans. It is critical that we stand together and fix our broken disaster recovery systems. After Hurricane Katrina storm survivors in Louisiana were afforded a break. New Jersey flood survivors deserve the same. It’s sad Senate Republicans opposed clawback forgiveness. I know if if New Jersey, with two Democratic Senators, was asked to support clawback forgiveness for a state with Republican Senators, we would.”
We may not have won clawback forgiveness yet, BUT we were able to get another extension on the Sandy funding. This means we have until June of 2025 to finish rebuilding before the RREM program closes out. AND we also have that long to achieve clawback forgiveness for New Jersey!
Want more information or to get involved? Join us on April 27th at 6:30pm at our monthly virtual Storm Organizing meeting. opens in a new windowMake sure you register here.