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Guidelines for Major Sandy Programs Not Adopted Until After Administration Chose Who Got Funds

Posted by Laura Denker on December 3rd 2013

Were some Sandy victims subject to different rules regarding relief funds than others? Documents obtained by Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC) through litigation against the Christie Administration reveal that there were no clear guidelines in place for the RREM or Resettlement programs until well after they started. While both programs started in May, the State did not adopt comprehensive policies for the operation of the Resettlement program until July, and for the RREM program until October. The Christie Administration made decisions to wait list or reject from the program thousands of people impacted by Sandy before putting these guidelines in place. Inexplicably, the Administration has never made the 172-page RREM policy public; today, FSHC makes it available for the first time to people applying for the program.

The Christie Administration appears to have made decisions regarding thousands of applications for Sandy recovery funds before adopting formal policies. The widespread confusion reported around the distribution of these funds, previously either attributed to ill-informed individuals or denied altogether by the administration, appear, in light of these documents, to be the result of a lack of comprehensive policies.

“We now know more about why thousands of people struggling to recover from Sandy could not get clear answers about how the Christie Administration’s programs worked or where they stood in the process,” FSHC Staff Attorney Adam Gordon said. “The Administration did not have clear and comprehensive policies themselves until months after the recovery programs started. We do not know from these documents how they made decisions up until that point.”

Several of the Christie Administration’s policies revealed today directly contradict information on the Administration’s own web site; for example:

• The Christie Administration’s website only provides an appeal process for an outright determination of ineligibility from the RREM program. But the policies allow for appeals not only of ineligibility, but also for a wide variety of other decisions that people struggling with the program have complained about such as selection of contractors, substantial damage determinations, and amount of grant awards. There has been no notice to applicants that they can appeal problems in these areas. • The policies claim that “Applicants who are determined to be ineligible for the program will be notified in writing of the reason for ineligibility.” In fact no applicant to RREM or Resettlement to our knowledge has ever been told the reason for ineligibility. All denied applicants are given a form letter that say that the applicant has failed to meet one or more of an undisclosed list of eligibility factors.

Kevin Walsh, Associate Director of Fair Share Housing Center, added: “The lack of clear policies requires a full accounting by the Christie Administration of how the money has been distributed to date, a clear statement of the order of priorities going forward and reasons for them including where people are on the wait list, and an opportunity for people previously denied these funds incorrectly or discouraged from applying to access these funds without having to go to the back of the line.”

The documents do not conclusively show whether earlier decisions followed the later-adopted policies or some other rules; FSHC is currently analyzing other data obtained through the litigation to attempt to better understand the distribution of funds and will make public that analysis as soon as it is completed.

The newly obtained policies and amendments to RREM and Resettlement program guidelines and eligibility requirements are posted here and at fairsharehousing.org/sandy.