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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid