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.
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

Multimedia US Defense Secretary: Iraqi Forces Lack 'Will to Fight'

Ash Carter criticizes Iraq's reaction to Islamic State; National Security Advisor Susan Rice echoed Carter's concerns in an interview on CBS More

Boko Haram Surrounds Havens With Land Mines

Chad and Cameroon say huge numbers of land mines planted by Boko Haram fighters along Cameroon's border with Nigeria are a danger to people, livestock and soldiers More

Women Activists for Peace Cross Korean DMZ

Governments of Koreas give international delegation of women peace activists permission to pass through heavily fortified boarder, but some critics say symbolic crossing only benefits Pyongyang More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs