Friday is the final day for those whose houses were damaged by Hurricane Sandy to apply for aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The deadline, which had been extended to March 1 earlier this year, signifies a transition into the next phase of long-term recovery as the number of those filing new claims for help has dropped to a trickle. Only eight people statewide filed new applications Sunday, according to the agency. So far, nearly 257,000 claims statewide have been filed.
FEMA already has paid out more than $365.7 million in grants statewide and more than $314 million for those who need temporary housing help, said Susan Solomon, public information officer for the agency.
Homeowners and renters who suffered damage to their primary residence still can file for assistance, which can include grants for repairs or help paying for a temporary place to live while the primary home is under reconstruction, Solomon said. “This is help to get your primary residence back into a safe, sanitary and secure situation, and also to help replace or repair essential household items. It’s not meant to make you whole.”
As the transition is under way, disaster recovery centers around the state gradually will close as demand drops, Solomon said. Only three centers in the state are scheduled to stay open until March 9 — those in Manahawkin, Mays Landing and Jersey City. Centers in Ocean City and Little Egg Harbor Township will close on Thursday.
How much aid you are eligible for depends on your situation, such as how much damage the house sustained and how highly the property is insured. The maximum amount any household can receive from FEMA — not flood insurance — is $31,900, Solomon said. Homeowners who already have cleaned up or started rebuilding can still file for assistance as long as they can provide receipts and a description of the damage, Solomon said.
Applications for Small Business Administration loans to bridge any gap that exists when insurance claims for homeowners and business owners are settled also must be filed by Friday, though processing for both FEMA and SBA claims may take several more weeks depending on whether additional information is required, Solomon said. Rejected claims often have small errors in them, such as the name not matching with the name on file with the Social Security Administration or more than one person from a household applying for aid, Solomon said.
Since Sandy made landfall Oct. 29 in Brigantine, 21,000 FEMA claims have been filed in Atlantic County, 6,200 claims have been filed in Cape May County, 585 claims in Cumberland County and 53,700 claims in Ocean County, according to agency statistics. More than 8 million cubic yards of debris has been removed in New Jersey or about 96 percent of the total debris, the agency said.
While the amount of grants and housing aid that has been disbursed is in the hundreds of millions of dollars, tens of thousands of people are still waiting for payment of flood insurance claims.
As of Thursday, only $54.6 million in flood insurance payments have been made, with an unknown amount pending. Gov. Chris Christie, along with state, local and federal leaders in New Jersey, have railed against the National Flood Insurance Program for slow processing times.
“We’re trying to work with FEMA with the claims,” said U.S. Rep Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd. “I’m getting mixed reports from what people have seen. Some are pleased, some are not.”
Some homeowners are also complaining that when flood insurance payments are made, the money is frequently being tied up by banks holding mortgages on the damaged homes.
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