Hurricane Ida charted a course of destruction across New Jersey a year ago this week. In its path, the storm left at least 30 Garden State residents dead and displaced thousands more as its winds and floodwaters wreaked havoc.
Nearly three feet of murky waters consumed large parts of Maryann Morris\’ home in Manville in the hurricane\’s aftermath.
Twelve months later, as NorthJersey.com staff writer Ashley Balcerzak reported this week, Morris and her 8-year-old daughter are still not living in their Somerset County home. Repairs there are ongoing — swaths of drywall and insulation needed replacement after they were destroyed by flood waters. Morris has $16,000 left from her insurance award to cover a bill of $135,000 to pay her contractor, she said.
“I just have no idea where we stand or what we’re going to do,” Morris said this week. “I’m worried that I’m going to have to tell my daughter that we have to leave New Jersey and that she’ll lose her friends, school and home.”
Morris is hardly alone. Thousands of New Jersey homeowners are still coping with Ida\’s impacts.
This week, the New Jersey Organizing Project, a nonprofit advocacy organization, hosted an online session for Ida victims. The event was attended by Rep. Tom Malinowski, whose 7th Congressional District was badly damaged by the hurricane, and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, who represents the 12th Congressional District.
The Democratic representatives heard loudly from advocates, who called on Congress to make changes to improve the relief process for those coping with property damage and other challenges left by natural disasters like Ida. One idea that gained traction during the discussion, as Balcerzak reported, was to make the current Community Development Block Grant program permanent. As it is now, CDBG dollars are dispersed situationally by Congress after disasters strike.
New Jersey received $228 million in CDBG grants after Ida, and state officials are now working to develop a plan to disperse the monies — but at a glacial pace, in our view.
Officials do not expect flood survivors to receive assistance until sometime next year — perhaps 18 months after Ida struck.
That\’s not acceptable.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, figuring out how to get financial relief more quickly,” said Watson Coleman.
We agree, Congresswoman.
Malinowski also acknowledged the bureaucratic tie-ups.
“Bureaucracies tend to answer our phone calls faster than they do yours,” Malinowski said. “Oftentimes we can get a yes when the answer might otherwise have been a no, so it\’s always worth a try.”
Disaster-relief funds should not take a year-and-a-half to dole out. We urge Malinowski and Watson Coleman to use whatever influence they can muster to speed relief to those who need it.
While more is clearly needed, some Federal aid to Ida victims, though, has flowed to New Jersey.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has paid $250 million in grants to close to 45,000 families impacted by Ida. Those funds, as Balcerzak reported in June, went to New Jersey storm victims to help pay for things like temporary housing, repairs, replacing lost items and medical care.
But more New Jersey families whose lives were upended by Ida still need help from Trenton and Washington.
New Jersey officials, as MyCentralJersey.com staff writer Mike Deak has reported, are anticipating receipt of the $228 million and are seeking the public\’s input on how to spend them. Among the proposals under evaluation are:
- The state Department of Community Affairs is proposing to spend $152 million for housing programs to restore homes and pay for rental costs, provide zero-interest forgivable loans for renters, buy out properties in flood prone areas and subsidize affordable housing development in lower flood risk areas.
- Another $58 million could go to infrastructure programs to protect communities against natural hazards.
- State officials also want to spend $6 million to develop a Statewide Housing Mitigation Strategy Tool to assess the housing stock in disaster-impacted and at-risk areas.
Victims and concerned citizens are urged to take part in upcoming hearings on the state\’s plans for relief disbursement. Hearings are scheduled this week:
- Sept. 8, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.: Manville High School auditorium, 1100 Brooks Blvd., Manville
- Sept. 12, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.: New Jersey Institute of Technology\’s Campus Center Ballroom, 150 Bleeker St., Newark
Regardless of the state\’s plans for the CDBG funds, it\’s essential that Ida victims like Leanna Jones of Milford in Hunterdon County see relief monies as quickly as possible. Six feet of water filled Jones\’ basement. Floors had to be ripped out, electrical and heating replaced. Precious photos and memories were lost.
“I’m still waiting for insurance to release some of the funds that I’m covered for [and] that’s delayed me with FEMA and SBA,” Jones said this week. “It also means that one year after the disaster, I am weighing whether I would end up back at a food bank, how to feed my kids. The lack of a disaster aid recovery system has left me feeling like I must have done something wrong.”
Jones\’ story is galling — a decade after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the region and nearly 15 years since Hurricane Katrina brutalized New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, federal officials still don\’t have a responsive and speedy approach to helping those need with relief.
We can do better. New Jersey\’s victims of Hurricane Ida require us to.