The state’s Action Plan for the second round of Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery Funding will be completed and available for public review in the coming days.
While the precise content of this plan, which will guide the disbursement of more than $1.4 billion in Sandy relief funding, is not fully known, it has been strongly indicated that Cumberland County (and those other counties not among the designated “nine most impacted”) will again be left out of state-administered aid programs available to individual homeowners.
Consistent with the Long Term Recovery Group’s position on this issue, we have drafted a preliminary public comment highlighting our concerns for the manner in which these billions of dollars will be distributed.
The Long Term Recovery Group encourages all concerned residents of Cumberland County, as well as our elected leaders, to provide a public comment on this issue. Please check this website in the coming days and weeks; as soon as the public comment period is open, we will provide instructions for submitting a comment to the state.
Cumberland LTRG’s Public Comment on the States Action Plan
The projected $1.46 billion in additional Sandy recovery funding that will be disbursed by the State to homeowners and municipalities in New Jersey is a welcome lifeline and a portion of the funds so allocated equivalent to the damages wrought by Sandy on Cumberland County should be spent on Cumberland County’s Sandy recovery – and in the sectors where that damage occurred. This includes individual homes, infrastructure, shore lines and habitat and the business community/economic foundation of the region.
The manner in which these funds are to be disbursed as per the state’s Action Plan Amendment Number 7 is unfair to Cumberland County residents and other New Jersey residents in counties outside of the “nine most impacted counties”. Though the county as whole was less severely impacted than many others, several bayshore municipalities and communities had as much damage as many of their unfortunate counterparts on the Atlantic Coast, most notably the municipalities of Downe Township, Maurice River Township, Lawrence Township and Commercial Township. For those residents who lost their homes or who are struggling to rebuild or elevate a home, or to repair a bulkhead or other mitigation installation, the damage is in many cases near total. There are low-income and moderate-income residents of Cumberland who lost or are in danger of losing their homes, either as a direct result of damage inflicted by Sandy, or because they cannot afford the exorbitant expense of elevating a home, and subsequently the massive increase in flood insurance premiums they will experience as a result.
In Cumberland County there is a pronounced need for housing programs that can fund repair, mitigation and elevation of Sandy-impacted homes. While there are some avenues of assistance available to these homeowners for other needs, there are no state funds allocated to ensure that these families are able to recover their primary homes from Sandy damage. Cumberland County is also among the poorest in the state, and many residents do not have the means to provide for their own recoveries; any assistance provided would be going to Low and Moderate Income citizens of New Jersey who were substantially impacted by Sandy.
Because they have been excluded from programs such as RREM, many are considering selling or abandoning their homes; these abandoned and decaying properties will contribute to neighborhood blight, and will further stress municipal budgets already severely impacted by loss in the ratable tax base.
While the Cumberland County Long Term Recovery Group understands the prioritization given to areas of the state more widely impacted by Sandy, we firmly believe that there should be an assistance program open to Cumberland residents that can provide funding for expensive and necessary recovery measures including home repair, mitigation installations and the elevation of homes. Such a program would go a long way towards recovering the homes of county residents, revitalizing bayshore communities, reducing neighborhood blight, alleviating the strain placed on local taxpayers, and restoring hope and optimism to the bayshore.
The bayshore region’s municipalities and stakeholders have taken the initiative to respond to Sandy and develop a comprehensive plan for the recovery and long-term resiliency of the area, but some measure of state assistance will be necessary for this to become a reality. The Cumberland County Bayshore Communities Recovery Plan was developed by a broad-spectrum coalition of federal agencies, including FEMA, local municipal governments, regionally-active environmental commissions and other bayshore area stakeholders and identifies 26 separate projects deemed necessary to the Cumberland County Bayshore’s community recovery. I(we) recommend that recovery funds allocated to infrastructure projects and assistance to municipal government be made available for the implementation of the Recovery Plan, and that the projects outlined in the plan be prioritized as essential to the region’s recovery.