Four long years after Superstorm Sandy, some 170 New Jersey homeowners thought the worst was behind them.
Until they got the letters.
Letters from the state’s Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) program, informing them they had to pay back some of the grant money they used to rebuild, according to a report in nbcphiladelphia.com.
Lisa Stevens of Little Egg Harbor lost her bungalow in the Oct. 29, 2012 storm. She used her grant money to build a smaller home.
“I didn’t build a mansion!” she said. “I went smaller because that’s what I could afford to do with my grant.”
Her signed approvals for the RREM program show she did not receive duplicate benefits, she said.
“They knew every dollar amount I was getting,” Stevens said. “They signed off on it.”
Stevens is among the 170-plus homeowners who have received similar notices from New Jersey’s Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation or RREM program.
NBC10 investigators found some, like Julie Suarez, with far larger refund demands. Suarez, a public school teacher, was told she owes more than $51,000.
“You can send us a cashier’s check at your earliest convenience,” she said. ” No ‘why.’ No ‘how to appeal.’ No ‘how to make a payment plan.’ Just, ‘you owe us 50-thousand dollars,’” she said.
The demands for reimbursement are a “gut punch” for Sandy victims, said Amanda Devecka-Rinear, the executive director of the New Jersey Organizing Project (NJOP), an advocacy group for Sandy victims.
She believes the number of refund demands will only rise as more families finish rebuilding. She also says better oversight could’ve prevented overpayments in the first place.
New Jersey officials have a legal obligation to recover funds that were duplicated, exceeded costs or were used on ineligible expenses. The DCA says any refund letters relate only to those over-payments.
The agency said in a statement that all the affected homeowners “were afforded the opportunity to provide us with additional documentation (i.e., receipts, invoices) to offset potential recovery of grant funds.”
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