A major transition is under way in the recovery effort for those rebuilding from Hurricane Sandy.
As the Federal Emergency Management Agency leaves New Jersey, local long-term recovery groups, which began forming in January, are springing into action to help those most affected by the storm find help to rebuild their homes and lives. Now, instead of finding temporary housing and replacing essentials, the focus is on rebuilding damaged homes and helping homeowners secure grants.
This new phase is mostly being done through volunteer groups, social services experts and nonprofit organizations as they are infused with cash from major aid programs such as The Robin Hood Foundation and the New Jersey Sandy Relief Fund.
First, though, residents in many affected areas can expect yet another knock on their door - from a team of people wearing bright green shirts.
The "Green Shirts," volunteers from World Renew, will go door to door in Cape May County until May 17 and will begin canvassing in Ocean County. They are there to help local long-term recovery groups figure out who still needs help and what kind of help they need. The long-term groups will use that information to help residents find grants, labor and help navigate the complex recovery process.
"The unmet need is huge," said Ted Gooding, chairman of the Ocean County Long-Term Recovery Group. "Unfortunately, most of our funders are capping our assistance at $10,000 to any one resident."
Grant money is being distributed to the groups, with Ocean County's group already having received about $3 million, and Atlantic County's group receiving nearly $600,000.
The New Jersey 2-1-1 Partnership is working with Catholic Charities to manage cases throughout the state. The 2-1-1 number is the one most residents should call if they need to connect with aid groups, said executive director Laura Marx. Residents who call 2-1-1 about Sandy issues will be asked questions, and that information will be sent to the local recovery groups, Marx said.
Ocean County's long-term recovery group has hired staff, found an office, and is moving in and turning on the phones, Gooding said. The worst-hit areas in Ocean County include Tuckerton, Long Beach Island and Little Egg Harbor, with about a third of those most affected being senior citizens who may not have had insurance or enough money to make repairs, Gooding said.
In Cape May County, which suffered much less damage from the storm than northern parts of the shore, more than 6,600 households registered with FEMA, said Cape May County Long-Term Recovery Group Chairman Barry Keefe. If residents have not registered with FEMA or want to make sure they meet with the team, they may call 609-463-6570 to request assistance, Keefe said.
While each group wants residents to have registered with FEMA and requires paperwork to show insurance payments, FEMA grants and other financial assistance did not cover the full cost of recovery. Gooding and other recovery group directors said they will consider those who have not registered on a case-by-case basis.
Keefe said his major concern is homeowners who winter out of the area are returning to the shore to find they had damage they did not know about. Those people, he said, may not have registered with FEMA and may have major rebuilding issues because of mold.
Atlantic County's group has been assessing communities for several weeks and is gearing up to begin their assessment in Egg Harbor Township, said Chairman Henry Wise. Teams have completed canvassing in Ventnor, Margate and Pleasantville, trying to find residents who need help rebuilding. The group has partnered with Stockton College, using students to help canvass through neighborhoods.
Wise said one of the biggest issues is keeping a spotlight on the problems in the affected areas as awareness elsewhere fades with time.
"We have to communicate to the general public that this isn't going away," Wise said. "We can't waive a magic wand and everyone's house is repaired."
In Atlantic City, dozens of residents have received help from the long-term recovery group operating out of the Second Baptist Church. The group has partnered with the Fuller Center of the Pines to help residents rebuild and work with small landlords to restore apartments. Last week, the group worked on 22 homes homes in the city.
Gooding said one of the most important things residents needing help can do is be patient, because the process is complicated as the teams work to build the system from the ground up.
"This is not a short-term solution or a short-term fix," he said. "This is a long-term issue."
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Contact long-term recovery groups:
•Atlantic County LTRG: 211
•Atlantic City LTRG: 609-541-2189
•Cape May County LTRG: 609-463-6570