News / USA

A year After Superstorm Sandy, Federal Aid Trickles in

Nicole Chati is in what is left of her home after Superstorm Sandy in the Staten Island borough of New York, Sept. 20, 2013.
Nicole Chati is in what is left of her home after Superstorm Sandy in the Staten Island borough of New York, Sept. 20, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
Reuters
A year after Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc across the eastern United States, only a fraction of the aid money earmarked for recovery has been used, in what some claim is a painfully slow and opaque process.

Only $5.2 billion of the pledged $47.9 billion had been tapped by cities and states by the end of August, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And tracking those funds has been complicated, lawmakers said.

“Transparency is woefully lacking. We don't know where the money is. We know people have been approved for grants, but the money has not been distributed,” said New Jersey Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer, chair of the environment committee.

The historic storm killed at least 159 people and damaged more than 650,000 homes when it made landfall on Oct. 29, 2012, devastating parts of New York, New Jersey and other states.

Three months after Sandy, Congress approved a $50 billion relief bill, which automatic federal spending cuts later reduced by 5 percent. It also authorized the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to borrow $9.7 billion to pay for Sandy claims.

The funds flow from the federal government to affected states, which hire contractors or give money to local governments to spend. Recipients as well as those who try to assist them say that accessing the money is exhausting.

“Everyone is so fatigued,” said Joseph Pupello, President of Zone A New York, a non-profit organization formed after the storm. “From the people who need help to the people who are helping.”

At first glance, Nicole and Steve Chati's one-story house in Staten Island's New Dorp Beach looks unscathed. But a rotten foundation makes it a total loss. As the Chatis talk about their problems, a chunk of plaster falls from the ceiling.

“It's been hell. All I have done is fill out paperwork,” Nicole Chati said. “No one comes back to you with an answer.”

They say they're supposed to get $250,000 from their NFIP flood insurance policy, but were offered $100,000 less, not enough to raze and rebuild.

Signs are taped to the front door of a home in the New Dorp Beach area in the Staten Island borough of New York, Sept. 20, 2013.
Signs are taped to the front door of a home in the New Dorp Beach area in the Staten Island borough of New York, Sept. 20, 2013.

Tracking the money

Officials and watchdogs have struggled to get both sub-contractor level data and a big-picture view of Sandy funding. Local, state and federal officials say they have gone to great lengths to get money out as fast and transparently as possible.

“Red tape is a critical reality that frustrates our impacted residents more than it should. It's awful for those suffering most, and we are working tirelessly to deal with it,” Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, said in an email to Reuters.

Seth Diamond, who is directing storm recovery for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, said there were many conditions, such as environmental reviews, the state must meet to spend the money.

“We're at the point now where a substantial amount of money is starting to flow and will be flowing. We intend to be very clear about where it's going,” Diamond said.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has conducted several probes that have led to charges or settlements, many with clean-up contractors and sub-contractors who allegedly didn't pay workers enough, or at all.

Part of the problem in tracking funds is lack of a single source of information. The federal Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, the watchdog for Sandy funding through 2015, says there is no way to identify Sandy sub-recipients in the clearinghouse for data on federal contracts.

That has also made it tricky for the Board to track down cases of fraud.

“Usually it's not the state or the big city - they don't run off with the money,” said Nancy DiPaolo, a Board assistant director. “It's when it starts getting broken down and down and down. The big question is, who sees that?”

So far, the Board has focused on debris removal and found that some companies hired to do the work had federal and state tax liens. Others had been suspended or debarred from government contracting. Board representatives declined to name the firms.

Addressing the need for some control, New York City Councilman Donovan Richards Jr has spearheaded legislation that would create an online public database that lists Sandy aid details such as recipients, projects and subcontractors.

“It's going to be a long process, but I'm confident it's going to pass,” he said.

You May Like

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid