OCEAN COUNTY, NJ - Almost eight years ago, Superstorm Sandy hit the Jersey Shore and left insurmountable damages. Many communities within Southern Ocean County faced the task of rebuilding as high winds and water gushes destroyed property. Emergency support came in the way of loans and expected repayment. Amid the pandemic, New Jersey's Washington delegates want a bill passed to stop recoupment of the disaster relief.
In Barnegat and Waretown, evidence of the storm's power exists throughout both communities. Last year, Waretown resident, Nancy Caira, shared the struggles she and her husband faced in finding the resources to tear down and rebuild their home. Most recently, they had everything worked out and ready to start the work. A public health disaster has once again delayed their return to normal.
At the end of 2015, the federal government announced it would refrain from "clawbacks" to get money returned as a result of what was seen as double dipping by recipients. The feds agreed to forgo collection on funds on what was seemingly already paid out by other sources - even if it did not make them whole. Even after 2015, the devastation called for the necessity of other loans and the feds are once again looking for recoupment.
Congressman Andy Kim and Congressman Frank Pallone feel their constituents already have enough problems as unemployment soars and the country faces continued financial uncertainty. They have introduced the Security After Sandy Act in the House. Senator Robert Menendez plans to introduce the companion bill in the Senate.
“As New Jerseyans and the communities they call home struggle to flatten the curve and fight this pandemic, the last thing they should have to worry about is facing federal government clawbacks from the assistance they needed to recover from a previous natural disaster like Superstorm Sandy," said Menendez. “With expenses soaring to combat COVID-19 and revenues drying up due to the necessary emergency shutdown orders, communities need to prioritize their limited resources to keeping their residents safe and maintaining essential services."
The Security After Sandy Act provides direct relief to communities by forgiving all Community Disaster Loans (CDLs) from January 1, 2016 to January 1, 2020, which includes all Sandy loans. The CDL program supports local governments with significant tax and other major revenue losses after major disasters. While the program provided critical emergency support for many communities after Sandy, the loan recipients are being asked to pay back those loans at a time when localities are projecting extraordinarily steep revenue declines due to constricted economic activity as a result of COVID-19.
The bill would also help New Jersey homeowners forced to pay back aid that was disbursed in the aftermath of Sandy, by stopping any further recoupment efforts for debt owed to the federal government in relation to Sandy and other major declared disasters between 2006 and 2020. These recoupment efforts, also known as "clawbacks", have blindsided many, because it was under the federal government’s own recommendation that many New Jersey residents applied for loans and benefits offered by various federal programs without clear guidance on repayment terms and contingencies.