Questions. Answers. Between the two is an ever-growing divide for residents looking to rebuild after being devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
At a mobile cabinet meeting in Union Beach Tuesday, state officials with various agencies and departments attempted to bridge the gap by offering Sandy-afflicted area residents the opportunity to ask them questions, face-to-face, and hear answers that have so often eluded them since the late October storm.
The idea, developed by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration and an extension of the governor’s early promise to cut through red tape, calls on high-ranking officials to serve the public at a local level.
Held in Union Beach Fire Hose Company #1’s meeting room, residents were able to take their numerous questions directly to the source, taxing the Department of Banking and Insurance and the Department of Environmental Protection, among others, for answers.
“It’s an opportunity for our folks to come and meet these people, to sit down across the table from them and answer their questions,” DOBI Commissioner Ken Kobylowski said.
Many of the questions fielded during the day revolved around insurance payouts and delays. While an estimated 85 percent of non-flood Sandy-related claims have been paid, Christie said, only about 30 percent of flood insurance claims have been resolved.
For residents in coastal communities, like Union Beach, the delay is keeping them out of their homes. And while DOBI can’t cut checks for affected residents, it can act as an intermediary between residents and insurance companies, applying the right amount of pressure to the proper channels.
“Most of us aren’t rich, we’re living pay check to pay check, just like everybody else,” Union Beach resident Vita Pepitone said. Though she still doesn’t know when she’ll receive her insurance claim, she was offered a bit of piece of mind during what has otherwise been a frustrating process. “She (the DOBI representative) told me they have to follow federal policy and federal policy says that they have to pay up.”
Paying up and paying out will come. Then there’s the next issue, elevating homes that are located in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) advisory flood maps. The maps, which were adopted by the state recently and will likely become the National Flood Insurance Program’s official maps sometime next year, will require residents in the V and A Zones to raise their homes or else face exorbitant flood insurance premiums.
Though information on how to receive funding for home elevation has been released, many remain uncertain of how the process works, or if they’ll be able to afford the complete project.
“We’re just trying to find out if they’re going to give more money to raise houses,” Donna Pattison, on hand to find out information about her mother’s damaged Union Beach property, said. “We have 2,000 square feet, $30,000 just isn’t enough.”
The $30,000 mentioned is available to residents with flood insurance. Called Increased Cost of Compliance, or ICC, funding, the money, in this case, is used specifically to raise homes so that they are compliant with FEMA’s flood maps. But, in many cases, $30,000 isn’t enough. Luckily, concerned residents, like Pattison, were able to learn about flood mitigation grants.
Distributed by FEMA to the county and then to municipalities, the competitive grants would be funded by a portion of the recently adopted $50.7 billion Hurricane Sandy relief package and would help cover the additional costs associated with home elevation.
For many, the answers they’re looking for are tied directly to disaster relief aid. For those questions, Christie supplied his own answer.
“We’re going to get the money flowing to you as quickly as we can.”