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Gov Christie in Manahawkin
The Christie administration is drawing up plans to quickly distribute what could be billions in Sandy aid to New Jersey homeowners and small businesses, the governor said Wednesday, a day after an eagerly awaited, massive federal disaster package cleared its biggest obstacle.
If the $50.6 billion aid package approved by the House of Representatives on Tuesday passes the Senate unchanged and is, as expected, signed by President Obama, billions of dollars will flow into the region within 60 days, testing the state and federal governments’ ability to direct it efficiently to where it is needed most.
Although details about how the money would be distributed have yet to be worked out, Governor Christie told a crowd at a town hall meeting in Manahawkin on Wednesday that his administration was already moving to create new state grant programs with some of the anticipated federal aid.
“There’s a little bookkeeping that needs to get done when you’re talking about $60 billion,” Christie said.
And he’s hoping the state will be in a position to start accepting applications in four to six weeks.
“We want to be in a position to move once the federal funding is in place,” spokesman Michael Drewniak said later.
The Obama administration and regional elected officials have said they are focused on avoiding the bureaucratic nightmare that bogged down the rebuilding effort after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But in requiring the federal government to release billions of dollars within two months after enactment, the proposed legislation will pose a different kind of challenge.
Governors in the affected states will have the most significant control over $16 billion in so-called Community Development Block Grants, prized by local and state officials because of the flexibility with which they can be spent. That flexibility also makes them susceptible to misuse, experts say, one reason they attracted criticism from conservative House members.
“What I’ve seen in my research is that mayors often use this money for political purposes,” said Derek S. Hyra, an associate professor of urban affairs and planning at Virginia Tech who has studied the grants. “Using the block grant gives you flexibility, but there’s a fear that local actors will use it to their political advantage.”
Block grants were created in the 1970s as a way to allow local officials to develop projects in their communities with federal money that benefit mostly low- and moderate-income families. But the grants have proved a quick way to get money on the ground locally after disasters.
The legislation approved by the House on Wednesday requires that one-third of the $16 billion in block grant money be disbursed within 60 days of the law’s enactment, either to states or local governments. The money would remain available until Sept. 30, 2017. That would cover the term for whoever wins this year’s New Jersey gubernatorial race.
The legislation requires the recipient of the grants to first submit a plan for approval to Secretary of Housing and Development Shaun Donovan, Obama’s point person overseeing the long-term rebuilding. Donovan said in an interview last month that the administration wanted to give the affected states significant control over how the rebuilding would proceed.
Christie echoed that thought Wednesday.
“What block grants do is to give the governor of an individual state control over that money so the federal government — people sitting in some cubicle in Washington, D.C. — isn’t deciding how to spend the money best, but the governor who is on the ground in that state is making the decision along with all the local elected officials.”
Christie’s comments on plans for distributing anticipated aid surprised at least one federal elected official. Rep. Frank Pallone, a Central Jersey Democrat who helped shepherd the aid package through Congress, said Wednesday that no decisions have been made on how federal money will ultimately be distributed.
“The aid will be critical to rebuilding the Shore in a meaningful way, which is why it’s important that a sensible program be established to distribute funding,” Pallone said. “And I look forward to working with all of the appropriate federal and state agencies that will be involved in the process when the bill is ultimately signed into law.”
On Wednesday, Christie offered tepid praise for the House, saying it finally supported the disaster relief “a little bit delayed, a little late for the party.” But he added, “That’s OK if you’re coming with $60 billion in aid.”
In the coming weeks, he said, he’ll continue to work with Democrats, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, whose states will compete for their share of the federal aid.
The proposed federal aid would have several purposes — to harden transit facilities, dredge waterways, repair roads and protect the shoreline from future storms — and as many pathways.
Christie said some money will go directly to the state Department of Transportation so it can repair roads and infrastructure damaged by superstorm Sandy, and also make them better.
Other money will go directly to the Army Corps of Engineers to build sand dunes along the shore, something Christie said has been proved to not only protect beachfront properties, but also inland properties.
The legislation requires $2.9 billion to be spent on reducing flood risks along the coast, but not until two Army Corps of Engineers studies that must be completed by March and May of this year.
And the governor said he’ll stand up to residents who don’t want to grant easements because the dunes will block their view.
“We had people lose their lives in this storm, we had people lose everything they own in this storm to protect your view – sorry,” he said.
He added, “I am going to do everything I can to make sure that some private homeowners aren’t going to be the ones who are going to either stop that from happening or hold the taxpayers for ransom for their views. It’s not right.”
Christie said he was confident the Senate — which convenes next week — would pass the bill and that it would be signed into law, freeing up money for the state grant programs he envisions.
He cited the grants in response to a woman from Beach Haven West, who told the governor that the cost of elevating her damaged home along with high taxes and soaring flood insurance premiums threatened to kill “the American dream for many of us.”
Christie told her the grant program would help people elevate their homes, rebuild or make repairs if they’re structurally sound.
“Through these grant programs, what we’re trying to accomplish is it gives you a choice. Right now you feel lost and without a choice, and I understand that, and that’s why I fought so hard to have the flexibility to set up these programs for places like you’re talking about.”
ABR, CRS, E-Pro, RSPS, SFR, SRES Jim is a “Jersey boy” originally from north Jersey in the Totowa, Little Falls area. He made the move to Stafford about 30 years ago, after finding the perfect....
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