Three years ago, Superstorm Sandy battered the East Coast, causing $50 billion in damages in the second-costliest weather event in U.S. history behind Hurricane Katrina. Yet many affected residents of New Jersey, which Sandy slammed on Oct. 29, 2012, are still waiting to be fully compensated for the damages they incurred.
A recent report by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers the National Flood Insurance Program, has found that more than half of the 17,000 policyholders it reviewed were shortchanged and that its ongoing examination will probably find more.
A few weeks ago, FEMA officials mailed letters to 146,000 homeowners who might have been victims of Sandy-related fraud such as doctored engineering reports. Many residents, who are already shell-shocked over the their fight to recover money to rebuild their homes are so distrustful of FEMA that they don't want the agency to reopen their claims, according to NJ.com.
Indeed, Sandy recovery efforts have been stymied from the start. Soon after the storm, New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who's now running for president, lashed out at members of his own party -- including House Speaker John Boehner -- for their "callous indifference" to New Jersey residents by delaying passage of a relief bill. The $51 billion bill finally became law on Jan. 28, more than three months after the storm devastated the Northeast.
Things continued to go awry.
"The Christie administration really botched the initial application process," said Adam Gordon an attorney with the Fair Share Housing Center. "There are lots of people whose applications were lost. We actually found through litigation over open public records that there were thousands of people who were rejected even though they were actually eligible."
Protesters in Trenton in recent days have brought attention to those still trying to recover from Sandy. A poll released Wednesday by Monmouth University found that 65 percent of the state's hardest-hit residents from the storm say people like them have been forgotten in the state's signature recovery effort program, New Jersey Stronger.
Another 61 percent say they're somewhat or very dissatisfied with the recovery efforts. The poll did note a slight improvement in positive sentiment. It found that 39 percent of the most affected residents now say they're very or somewhat satisfied with the Christie administration's efforts
"In many hard-hit residents' opinions, the state has simply not done enough to adequately address their most pressing needs. Three years removed from Sandy, the state still receives more negative than positive marks for the job they've done in the recovery effort," said Tim Tracey, project director for Monmouth's Sandy Recovery Survey, in a statement. This group has tracked the experiences of approximately 500 New Jersey residents every year since the storm's first anniversary.
The Christie administration, not surprisingly, sees things differently. Spokesman Brian Murray told CBS MoneyWatch the Garden State has made "tremendous" progress in its recovery efforts, though he acknowledged that more work needs to be done.
According to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, more than 7,600 people have gotten at least one payment to rebuild from the state's main program. But only about 2,000 have completed construction.
Fraud was another problem. Unscrupulous contractors from out of state took advantage of the chaos caused by such an unprecedented weather event.
"Unlike other coastal states, we have never had a significant catastrophic storm event until Sandy," said Christine O'Brien, the head of the Insurance Council of New Jersey, a trade group.
The people who suffered the storm's wrath -- especially those still waiting to rebuild -- hope another one never comes along again.
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