LITTLE EGG HARBOR — New Jersey has requested a 30-day extension of the March 1 deadline for FEMA storm-damage aid, a governor’s representative told a crowd gathered for a meeting Wednesday evening of the township’s Sandy Recovery Task Force.
Timothy Cunningham, a staff attorney from Gov. Chris Christie’s office, said extending the Federal Emergency Management Agency deadline past Friday would also trigger an extension in the deadline for loans through the Small Business Administration, which are also set to close Friday.
The extension was requested by the governor’s office partially because of the realization that SBA loan return rates are still on the low side, Cunningham said.
“People didn’t understand that these loans were not just for businesses,” Cunningham said.
Although applications for aid have slowed considerably in the four months since the Oct. 29 storm, there are still people who need help and more time, Cunningham said.
The Friday deadline was already extended earlier this year for aid to people whose houses were damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
To date, about 257,000 claims have been filed with FEMA from across the state and the agency has paid out more than $365.7 million in grants and more than $314 million for those who need temporary housing help, FEMA public information officer Susan Solomon said earlier this week.
Assemblyman Brian Rumpf, R-Ocean, Atlantic, Burlington, who is assisting the local task force with legal advice, invited Cunningham to address the group and the public Wednesday evening.
“Unfortunately, I do think there is still very much a need to extend the deadline, and from all the comments tonight during the meeting, despite all the governmental agencies who are helping, there are people who have not made applications,” Rumpf said.
The newly formed Sandy Recovery Task Force is made up of community officials and professionals. They said during their second meeting Wednesday that there are still a lot of issues to tackle.
The township is working to rebuild and recover in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which impacted 4,000 of the municipality’s 10,189 homes. The task force will focus on what they say needs to be a correction of FEMA’s new advisory base flood elevation maps, communication, insurance issues, and identifying and securing resources to assist the community.
Much of the focus of the conversation during the task force’s session Wednesday surrounded the advisory base flood elevation maps. The maps place the Mystic Islands section of the township in this highest risk zone, with a 4-foot increase to the base flood elevation.
The task force says that FEMA is wrong about the maps and they need to be changed.
The answer consistently received from FEMA is that maps did not take Sandy into account, Cunningham said.
Local attorney Richard Kitrick, a task force member, stressed to Cunningham that the state needs to lean on FEMA for a correction in the maps and for Hurricane Sandy to be taken into account when examining the maps.
Cunningham told the task force and the crowd of residents who attended the meeting that the maps were coming one way or another and when Hurricane Sandy hit it was prudent to release the maps so people could know what the new standards for rebuilding would be.
Some communities across the state are adopting the advisory base flood elevation maps and some are not, Cunnigham said.
Jason Worth of T&M Associates said township attorney Jim Oris attended a meeting earlier this week in Atlantic City at the Convention Center hosted by U.S. Rep LoBiondo R-2nd and there was discussion with FEMA representatives that some V-zone classifications may change, although the base flood elevations will most likely remain the same.
Also Wednesday, police Chief Richard Buzby, another task force member, called on Cunningham to keep the township’s FEMA Disaster Recovery Center open past this week. The township had difficulty bringing the center to the municipality, following the storm and it is now scheduled to close Thursday.
Buzby said there are still dozens of people coming to the center each day seeking assistance. Cunningham said he couldn’t promise that the center would stay open past this week, but he would make a phone call Thursday and express the township’s desire for the center to remain open.
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