When Hurricane Sandy damaged or destroyed more than 350,000 properties in New Jersey last October, residents of hard-hit shore towns learned what you need to deal with such massive carnage. The list includes generators, water, food and blankets. But the most important thing you must have, they are finding, is patience.
Many shore residents have waited for months without receiving final settlements of their insurance claims. The money they do receive is often inadequate to repair, rebuild or raise their homes.
So it was good news that Gov. Chris Christie's administration has moved quickly to file a plan for disbursing the first round of federal flood aid - $1.8 billion in community block grants. In early February, states affected by Sandy were given 90 days to file action plans with the federal government. New Jersey submitted its plan Tuesday - well ahead of the deadline.
This money, the first of three rounds of grants, is intended to help fill needs unmet by private insurance and other government programs such as those administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The bulk of the money would be spent in the counties that suffered the most damage from Sandy - including Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties.
The plan calls for $600 million in grants of up to $150,000 to help primary homeowners rebuild or elevate their properties. About 70 percent of this money would go to low- and moderate-income households. Another $200 million would be used for $10,000 "resettlement" grants for people who agree to stay in storm-ravaged communities for at least two years rather than sell out. The idea is to help preserve the character of shore towns.
Small businesses would benefit from $500 million in grants and loans.
Funds are also aimed at landlords who rebuild or renovate small apartment buildings and developers and public housing authorities that build or restore multifamily housing units.
Grants would also be available for about 5,000 renters.
Critics say the money going to low-income renters is inadequate, and helping 5,000 renters does seem to fall short of the need. In Atlantic City alone, 6,000 renters have registered for FEMA storm aid. The affordable housing group Enterprise Community Partners estimated last week that 108,000 renters in the state were affected by the storm .
Advocacy groups also point out that the amount of overall funding going to affordable housing, about half, is the minimum required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which must approve the block-grant plan.
One positive aspect of the plan is that the money will be administered by the state, rather than going to county and municipal governments. With billions of dollars at stake, it is important that a central administration be accountable for how it is spent. (This is New Jersey, after all.)
The plan still must be reviewed, and state officials don't expect any money before next month, so it's not as if checks are in the mail. But while it is difficult to be patient, no one wants to see this money wasted or misspent because things were rushed.
For those whose lives were turned upside down by Sandy, the fact that New Jersey has filed its plan is one more indication, at least, that help is on the way.