The Star-Ledger

Homeowners, Advocates Call For Lawmakers To Back 'Sandy Bill Of Rights' Override

The Star-Ledger — Wednesday, June 18, 2014

By Erin O'Neill / The Star-Ledger

With a vote looming to override Gov. Chris Christie's conditional veto of a bill drafted over concerns about how Hurricane Sandy aid has been distributed, homeowners and advocates today joined together to push for state lawmakers to support the measure.

The governor rejected the bill in May, saying the legislation included provisions that violated federal law and featured "partisan political findings." But supporters of the bill said in a conference call with reporters today that the legislation is needed to address problems with state-run disaster relief programs.

Lori Dibble, who lived in a manufactured housing community in Highlands when Sandy hit, said the process for applying for housing aid has been riddled with misinformation.

"Each person I spoke to gave me a different answer," she said.

She said she applied for $10,000 through the Homeowner Resettlement program and for a grant through the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation grant program, which provides up to $150,000 for construction costs. She said she is still appealing rejections from the programs.

Two other homeowners also spoke about difficulties they faced with the housing construction program in the conference call arranged by the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. Dena Mottola Jaborska, director of organizing and strategic program development for New Jersey Citizen Action and Analilia Mejia, director of NJ Working Families, also joined the call to push for an override of Christie's conditional veto of the "Sandy Bill of Rights."

The bill, if passed, includes provisions for residents to receive a simple explanation of the rules to apply for state-run programs, to access the status of their applications online and to know why they were rejected from a recovery program.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) in May quickly vowed to override the governor's veto of the bill, which cleared the state Legislature with bipartisan support, passing 34-0 in the Senate and 72-0 in the Assembly.

However, Republicans who initially supported the legislation have since backed off. Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-Union) sent a letter to Sweeney at the end of May saying his members won't vote to overturn the governor's action.

Kean wrote while "we support much of the concept" behind the bill, "we do not believe it will achieve these worthy goals if enacted in its current form." He also pointed out that parts of the bill conflict with federal laws and regulations.

Sweeney and other supporters of the legislation point out that the bill included language that said federal law would supersede any measure in the bill.

An override vote is expected to take place next week.

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