EDISON - The Christie administration and its now-fired Sandy grant contractor wrongly rejected thousands of people for Sandy grants, and four out of five homeowners who appealed the rejections wound up being ruled eligible. The information comes from state data obtained under the Open Public Records Act by the Fair Share Housing Center.
“It seems the administration’s and HGI’s policies were just to reject people and see if they appealed,” says Kevin Walsh of the FSHC.
Kane In Your Corner has investigated several instances of Sandy victims wrongly turned down for grant money. In one of the most egregious examples, the state rejected a request by Olivia DiCellio, of Highlands, whose home was ordered to be torn down after Sandy because of severe foundation damage. The state somehow concluded she had “less than $8,000 in damage.” DiCellio appealed and the determination was later reversed.
The rejection data comes two weeks after the administration confirmed it had fired HGI as its grant administrator. Neither the governor nor his staff would say why that decision was made.
In a written statement, Lisa Ryan, spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, blames the bad rejections in part on FEMA. “Noting the high number of ineligibility determinations, we investigated and learned FEMA provided the state with inaccurate damage assessment data,” Ryan said. As a result, she said the state amended its policies to allow homeowners to submit damage assessments from third parties, such as insurance adjustors.