STAFFORD TOWNSHIP — Almost six years after Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey, a group that advocates for flood survivors’ rights held its first convention, showing there is still much work to be done in the historic storm’s aftermath.
The New Jersey Organizing Project brought survivors together with representatives of government programs, politicians and others to talk about helping state residents finish projects, fight clawbacks of government assistance funds and keep health insurance coverage.
The convention was held Oct. 13 at the Ocean Acres Community Center in Manahawkin.
Oct. 29 will be the sixth anniversary of Sandy, and 19 percent of the 7,690 families that qualified for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation and Low-to-Moderate Income grants still haven’t finished their projects, said NJOP Executive Director Amanda Devecka-Rinear.
The grants were funded by more than $4 billion from the federal government and administered by the state Department of Community Affairs.
A large number of those who got assistance are being asked to pay back an amount the government has decided was overpaid. Called “clawbacks,” the demands for repayment of tens of thousands of dollars are putting additional stresses on families that have already been pushed to their limits, said Jody Stewart, of the Mystic Island section of Little Egg Harbor Township.
“I had 42 inches of water in my home,” Stewart said, who used grant money to repair and raise her home. “Then we struggled with a clawback. The government wanted $20,000 back, even though we never got enough money.”
The state wants to transfer $6.1 million from other programs into housing counseling and ren…
Luckily it turned out the government’s paperwork was wrong, Stewart said. She did not owe any money after all. But it was stressful fighting it for a while, she said.
Sandy survivors started the New Jersey Organizing Project to better advocate for rental assistance, disaster aid and to help people who were running into roadblocks.
It is still focused on making sure families can get home and hang on until they make it home, said Devecka-Rinear.
But the group has added two big issues onto its plate, she said. It is working for affordable health care — in particular expanding access to treatment for those with opioid addiction — and for reform of disaster recovery systems so they work better for families and prepare communities for future flooding and storms.
Five years after Hurricane Sandy made a direct hit on the Jersey Shore, massive amounts of m…
Many people affected by Sandy suffered physical or mental health issues in the years that followed, Devecka-Rinear said.
Nancy Ciara, of Waretown in Ocean Township, said her husband had a heart attack soon after Sandy, putting him out of work and complicating their ability to help pay to raise their home 13 feet. Even though they have a RREM grant, they ran into many complications and still haven’t started the work, she said.
Ciara spoke at a workshop on storm recovery and preparing for future storms, along with the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Shana Udvardy, one of the authors of “Underwater: Rising Seas, Coastal Floods and the Implications for U.S. Coastal Real Estate,” and Jason Tuber, a senior adviser to Sen. Robert Menendez. Tuber talked about reforms Menendez, D-N.J., is seeking through legislation for the National Flood Insurance Program.
As of Sept 28, Devecka-Rinear said, the state’s figures show there is about $1.2 billion in unspent Sandy recovery funding, some of which could be redirected to better aid families.
1 of 71
President Barack Obama, left, embraces Donna Vanzant, right, during a tour of a neighborhood effected by superstorm Sandy, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012 in Brigantine, N.J. Vanzant is a owner of North Point Marina, which was damaged by the storm. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
This aerial photo shows a collapsed house along the central Jersey Shore coast on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. New Jersey got the brunt of Sandy, which made landfall in the state and killed six people. More than 2 million customers were without power as of Wednesday afternoon, down from a peak of 2.7 million. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Marine One, carrying President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, take an aerial tour of the Atlantic Coast in New Jersey in areas damaged by superstorm Sandy, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, Pool)
FILE - In this Oct. 31, 2012 file photo, President Barack Obama is greeted by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie upon arrival at Atlantic City International Airport in Atlantic City, N.J., to visit areas damaged by Superstorm Sandy. Obama with Christie at his side, will visit the recovering coast on Tuesday, May 28, 2013, in an effort to reinforce a message of effective government, bipartisanship and economic opportunity. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
Large waves generated by Hurricane Sandy crash into Jeanette's Pier in Nags Head, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012 as the storm moves up the east coast. Hurricane Sandy, upgraded again Saturday just hours after forecasters said it had weakened to a tropical storm, was barreling north from the Caribbean and was expected to make landfall early Tuesday near the Delaware coast, then hit two winter weather systems as it moves inland, creating a hybrid monster storm. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
This aerial photo of Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, shows the New York skyline and harbor. The vast destruction wreaked by the storm surge in New York could have been prevented with a sea barrier of the type that protects major cities in Europe, some scientists and engineers say. The multibillion-dollar price tag of such a project has been a hindrance, but may appear more palatable after the damage from Superstorm Sandy has been tallied. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
A parking lot full of yellow cabs is flooded as a result of superstorm Sandy on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 in Hoboken, NJ. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes)
Sand marks the floodwater line on the side of a house in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Long Beach, N.Y. Sandy, the storm that made landfall Monday, caused multiple fatalities, halted mass transit and cut power to more than 6 million homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Ariel Nadelberg of the Brooklyn borough of New York pours hot soup in a cup at a parking lot that has become make shift place where those in need can get food and clothing in a Rockaway neighborhood of the borough of Queens, New York, Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, as efforts to bring goods and services to people goes on in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. Many volunteers have shown up on their own to try to lend a hand any way they can. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
A dog named Shaggy is handed from a National Guard truck to National Guard personnel after the dog and his owner left a flooded building in Hoboken, N.J., Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in the wake of superstorm Sandy. Some residents and pets are being plucked from their homes by large trucks as parts of the city are still covered in standing water. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
Storm surge hits a small tree as winds from Hurricane Sandy reach Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Conn., Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. Water from Long Island Sound spilled into roadways and towns along the Connecticut shoreline Monday, the first signs of flooding from a storm that threatens to deliver a devastating surge of seawater. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Homes severely damaged last October by Superstorm Sandy, are seen along the beach Thursday, April 25, 2013, in Mantoloking, N.J. Six months after Sandy devastated the Jersey shore and New York City and pounded coastal areas of New England, the region is dealing with a slow and frustrating, yet often hopeful, recovery. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Grace Chow, 22, of New York, pours water from one bucket to another for a resident on the twentieth floor at Confucius Plaza in the Chinatown neighborhood of New York, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, power outages have also meant loss of water for some buildings. Chow and Matthew Hom, 26, also of New York, are volunteering for the New York United Dragon and Lion Dance group. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
Damage caused by a fire at Breezy Point is shown Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in in the New York City borough of Queen. The fire destroyed between 80 and 100 houses Monday night in the flooded neighborhood. More than 190 firefighters have contained the six-alarm blaze fire in the Breezy Point section, but they are still putting out some pockets of fire. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Firefighters look up at the facade of a four-story building on 14th Street and 8th Avenue that collapsed onto the sidewalk Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in New York. Hurricane Sandy bore down on the Eastern Seaboard's largest cities Monday, forcing the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds, soaking rain and a surging wall of water up to 11 feet tall. (AP Photo/ John Minchillo)
Matt Daly, 12, of Connecticut, places a U.S. flag atop a pile of sand removed from streets in the Rockaways, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, in the Queens borough of New York. Despite power returning to many neighborhoods in the metropolitan area after Superstorm Sandy crashed into the Eastern Seaboard, many residents of the Rockaways continue to live without power and heat due to damage caused by Superstorm Sandy. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Waves pound a lighthouse on the shores of Lake Erie Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, near Cleveland. High winds spinning off the edge of superstorm Sandy took a vicious swipe at northeast Ohio early Tuesday, uprooting trees, cutting power to hundreds of thousands, closing schools and flooding parts of major commuter arteries that run along Lake Erie. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Vehicles are submerged on 14th Street near the Consolidated Edison power plant, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in New York. Sandy continued on its path Monday, as the storm forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain. (AP Photo/ John Minchillo)
A worker shovels sand out of homeowner Sandy Forino's living room in Longport, N.J., Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, after it was carried in by surge from Superstorm Sandy. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Beverly Stricklin, 48, of Coney Island, cries as she waits in a food line in her neighborhood in the Brooklyn borough of New York on Friday, Nov. 9, 2012. A steady stream of volunteers, food, and supplies continues to flow into the Coney Island community as electricity is progressively restored to the area battered by Superstorm Sandy. Despite the return of power in most homes, heat and hot water is still offline throughout many of the area's public housing communities. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
People gather on the buckled boardwalk of the Rockaway Park neighborhood of the borough of Queens, New York, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
People wade and paddle down a flooded street as Hurricane Sandy approaches, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Lindenhurst, N.Y.
A man walks past cottages damaged by superstorm Sandy on Roy Carpenter's Beach in the village of Matunuck, in South Kingstown, R.I. on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
High winds blow sea foam into the air as a person walks across Jeanette's Pier in Nags Head, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, as wind and rain from Hurricane Sandy move into the area. Governors from North Carolina, where steady rains were whipped by gusting winds Saturday night, to Connecticut declared states of emergency. Delaware ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal communities by 8 p.m. Sunday. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Kathleen Seemar adjusts her nose and mouth guard as she cleans up her home, which was flooded during superstorm Sandy, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, in Brick, N.J. Three days after Sandy slammed the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, New York and New Jersey struggled to get back on their feet, the U.S. death toll climbed to more than 80, and more than 4.6 million homes and businesses were still without power. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012 file photo, waves wash over a roller coaster from a Seaside Heights, N.J., amusement park that fell in the Atlantic Ocean during Superstorm Sandy. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)
In this Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012 photo, Michael Sciaraffo, a political consultant who has worked for Hillary Clinton and City Hall, is costumed as Santa Claus as he makes a toy delivery to a home in the Bell Harbor neighborhood of New York with a delivery of toys. Using Facebook, Sciaraffo started a charitable enterprise to collect and personally deliver toys to children affected by Superstorm Sandy, dressed as Santa Claus. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 file photo, Robert Connolly, left, embraces his wife, Laura, as their son Kyle leans over, at right, as they survey the remains of the home owned by Laura's parents that burned to the ground in the Breezy Point section of New York, following Superstorm Sandy. Sandy ran up a $42 billion bill on New York and the state and New York City are making big requests for disaster aid from the federal government, according to one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration officials. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
Kiva Kahl pours hot tea for neighbor Buddy Sammis,right, after she prepared it on a wood-stoked fire and cooking setup she and her fiance created in the street in front of their house on Beach 91st Street in the Rockaways, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, in New York. More New Yorkers awoke Saturday to power being restored for the first time since Superstorm Sandy pummeled the region, but patience wore thin among those in the region who have been without power for most of the week. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
A vehicle is submerged on 14th Street near the Consolidated Edison power plant, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in New York. Sandy knocked out power to at least 3.1 million people, and New York's main utility said large sections of Manhattan had been plunged into darkness by the storm, with 250,000 customers without power as water pressed into the island from three sides, flooding rail yards, subway tracks, tunnels and roads. (AP Photo/ John Minchillo)
In this aerial photo, sand fills the streets in the wake of superstorm Sandy, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, along the central Jersey Shore, N.J. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Ray Martin, right, and his son, Ray Martin, Jr., collect family business records from a filing cabinet in the basement of their flood and fire-destroyed home Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 in the Belle Harbor section of the Queens borough of New York. Several homes and businesses were destroyed by fire in the oceanside community during Superstorm Sandy. Behind them is the burned-out shell of a neighbor's van. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Layana Campbell, 12, left, celebrates with her dog, Sandy, her sister Lanyai Campbell, 13, center, and her best friend Jadah Cabot, right, as the lights come on in Cabot's apartment in the Red Hook Houses in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, New York, Monday, Nov. 12, 2012. Some of the buildings in the complex are still without power and heat from Superstorm Sandy two weeks ago. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
FOR USE AS DESIRED, YEAR END PHOTOS - FILE - In this Nov. 1, 2012 file photo, much of lower Manhattan remains dark, as viewed from the darkened Manhattan side of the pedestrian walkway of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. In the wake of superstorm Sandy, power outages plagued much of the New York area. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, File)
People line up to fill gas containers at the New Jersey Turnpike's Thomas A. Edison service area Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, near Woodbridge, N.J. After Monday's storm surge from Sandy, many gas stations in the region are without power and those that are open have very long lines. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Maria Heidelberg, center, sorts through donated clothing to be sent out to a neighborhood hit by Superstorm Sandy, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, in Staten Island, N.Y. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Medical workers assist a patient into an ambulance during an evacuation of New York University's Tisch Hospital, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in New York. The New York City hospital is moving out more than 200 patients after its backup generator failed when the power was knocked out by a superstorm. (AP Photo/ John Minchillo)
John Okeefe walks on the beach as a rollercoaster that once sat on the Funtown Pier in Seaside Heights, N.J., rests in the ocean on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012 after the pier was washed away by superstorm Sandy which made landfall Monday evening. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
New Orleans firefighters David Nick, left, Bill Spiers, center, and Bruce Hurley, Sr. tour the Breezy Point section of Queens, N.Y., Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012. The New Orleans Fire Department is returning the help given to Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina by firefighters and other emergency workers from New York. Breezy Point lost more than 100 homes to a fire that swept through the oceanside community during Superstorm Sandy. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Richard Thomas walks through the flood waters in front of his home after assisting neighbors as Hurricane Sandy bears down on the East Coast, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Fenwick Island, Del. Forecasters warned that the New York City region could face the worst of Hurricane Sandy as it bore down on the U.S. East Coast's largest cities Monday, forcing the shutdown of financial markets and mass transit, sending coastal residents fleeing and threatening high winds, rain and a wall of water up to 11 feet (3.35 meters) tall. It could endanger up to 50 million people for days. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Allison Gilmartin, right, collects a small pile of damaged dinnerware as her friend Kelly Johnston leans over the edge of the foundation to remove more fragments from the ruins of Gilmartin's fire-ravaged family home, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, in the Breezy Point section of the New York's Queens borough. More than 100 homes were destroyed by fire in the ocean side community during Superstorm Sandy. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012 file photo, Robert Bryce, right, walks with his wife, Marcia Bryce, past downed utility poles and other debris from Superstorm Sandy on Route 35 in Seaside Heights, N.J. An Associated Press analysis of outage times from other big hurricanes and tropical storms suggests that, on the whole, the utility response to Sandy, especially in hardest-hit New York and New Jersey, was typical - or even a little faster than elsewhere after other huge storms. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)