Homeowners who were denied funding from New Jersey's $600 million Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation program or the state's $180 million Resettlement program, but did not appeal the rejections, probably should have.
A study by the non-profit group Fair Share Housing Center, based in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, found that of rejected applicants who did appeal, 80%—1,878 of households—were found to have been rejected in error and were awarded grants. If that error rate holds for applicants who didn't appeal, the group says, there could be thousands more people eligible for state disaster assistance who have not received it.
New Jersey Today has the story: ("Sandy Aid Programs Erroneously Rejected Hundreds of Applicants"). "A state Department of Community Affairs spokesperson explained that many of the initial denials were the result of inaccurate damage assessments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency," the paper reports.
"Data Fair Share obtained through an Open Public Records Act request showed nearly 80% of those rejection decisions were reversed upon appeal, but 3,700 people in two major state-run programs never appealed their decisions," the Press of Atlantic City reports (see: "Incorrect data led to Sandy aid rejections," by Wallace McKelvey). "The deadline for appeals to be filed has since passed."
"I'm not aware of anybody who didn't appeal and nevertheless got an award," Kevin Walsh, a Fair Share Housing Center executive, told the Press.
"The state Department of Community Affairs, which oversees the Sandy aid process, attributed the rejections in part to 'inaccurate damage assessment data' provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency," the Press reports. "But representatives of FEMA say the data the state used to evaluate applications weren't intended for long-term damage assessments. The data, which helped determine FEMA benefits, were generated during the first weeks after the storm and given to the state for advisory purposes. 'It was never meant to be used … for their payouts or their processes,' said Phyllis Deroian, a FEMA spokeswoman. 'We were sharing information with the state, which we're allowed to do by law.'"
In New York, state officials recognized that FEMA's preliminary numbers, called "FVL" ("FEMA Verified Loss"), drastically underestimated actual losses—according to other federal agencies, by more than ten times.
In light of the Fair Share report, New Jersey officials are giving rejected applicants another chance to appeal, reports CNN (see: "New Jersey reopens appeals process for those denied Sandy funds," by Steve Kastenbaum). "We want anyone who is eligible under the guidelines to have a full and fair opportunity to receive assistance," said Richard E. Constable III, commissioner of New Jersey's Department of Community Affairs.
That "full opportunity," however, comes a year and a half after the storm itself. William Halbelson, a resident of Stafford Township, was one of those program applicants who did appeal his rejection by the RREM program — and he didn't find out until last October that the state had reversed itself and awarded him a grant. His house is still not repaired, he told the Press of Atlantic City, and his temporary housing funds are about to run out. He expects to be living in a tent soon on his property. He told the Press, "I know all the cleanest rest rooms in the area."