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NEW JERSEY – Five years after Superstorm Sandy, a new report from the New Jersey Resource Project shows the disaster is far from over for many. More than 500 Superstorm Sandy survivors were surveyed on their experiences during the storm, in the recovery process, and as they continue to rebuild their lives.

Their stories in “The Long Road Home” make a compelling case for better preparation ahead of storms, and for the critical reforms needed in federal, state and local response programs.

As we approach the five-year anniversary on October 29, hundreds of thousands of other people are just beginning their own recovery from the recent Harvey, Irma and Maria storms. Many of the struggles Sandy families faced will be repeated for those trying to recover today unless we apply lessons learned, enact policy reforms, and humanize the disaster recovery process.

“Our communities learned these lessons the hard way. We have solutions to help New Jersey families and to make sure no one in any state has to go through what we have. Shame on us if we don’t listen,” said Amanda Devecka-Rinear, director of the New Jersey Resource Project.

  • Twenty-two percent of those surveyed in The Long Road Home” said they are still not back home.
  • Seventy-seven percent said they either did not have enough money to finish rebuilding their homes, or had to borrow from retirement or other savings, SBA loans, and credit cards.
  • More than 70 percent said they had developed physical or mental health problems or a worsening of pre-existing health conditions since Sandy. Many described anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress, often with respiratory, cardiovascular, or other conditions.

When Sandy made landfall, the storm resulted in 72 deaths, caused billions of dollars in damage, and displaced thousands. “The Long Road Home” shows families still need financial assistance and help navigating recovery programs to make it home again.

The report also found that even when storm survivors make it home, there has been a significant impact on their finances and health. Results are based on a survey of Sandy impacted families, and show that 56 percent of families have had trouble paying bills or affording food since the storm

“New Jersey is still struggling with Sandy five years later. When I think of what all the families struck by floods now will face as they try to rebuild their homes and lives, truthfully, many will never completely recover from the toll on their finances, family and health. It’s devastating,” said Krista Sperber, a Sandy survivor from Belmar, N.J.

If done right, recovery programs can assist all families equally in getting back home with less hardship along the way.

“After representing and assisting hundreds of Sandy survivors, one of the most important things we have learned – and this survey confirms – is that people need ongoing assistance, even now five years later,” said Jessica Limbacher, an attorney with Volunteer Lawyers for Justice.

Michele Oschner, Ph. D, a researcher from Rutgers University, said the report combines interviews with quantitative and qualitative survey results from hundreds of individuals.

“The study provides an in-depth portrait of the multiple challenges encountered during the recovery process and the impact on respondents jobs and savings, health and well-being,” said Oschner.

Additional findings from the report:

  • Nearly 50 percent of homeowners reported damages of $150,000 or more, but only seven percent of their National Flood Insurance companies’ awards fell into this range.
  • Twenty percent of respondents in New Jersey’s RREM or LMI programs have been told that they owe money back to the grant programs; more than a third of this group were informed verbally and never provided with written notice, and nearly 90 percent reported that they could not afford to the pay the money back.
  • In addition to shouldering the cost of rebuilding, the livelihood of 41 percent of respondents was affected by Sandy.
  • Thirty-two percent of respondents have fallen behind on mortgage/rent payments, taxes, or other expenses related to their Sandy-damaged homes.
  • Of families with children, nearly 40 percent report that their children’s school performance suffered because of difficulties their family has faced since the storm.

Summary of Recommendations:

  • To better prepare any state dealing with disaster, the National Flood Insurance Program should be reformed to make flood maps accurate, insurance affordable, and mitigation and disaster prevention efforts a priority. It is equally critical to rein in abuses from the private insurance companies that administer the Write Your Own program so that policyholders can receive fair payouts.
  • To assist families still recovering from Sandy, humanize recoupment procedures immediately to forgo clawbacks when collection would be “against equity and good conscience.” Pass legislation at the state level formalizing an appeal process and allowing the state to consider the family’s ability to pay.
  • The state must ease the requirements for homeowners facing contractor fraud who still need additional grant funds.
  • New Jersey residents who are still struggling to recover from Superstorm Sandy are available for interviews. The report authors are also available for interviews.

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The New Jersey Resource Project educates and connects community leaders to work together for solutions. By taking action together we lead the way toward economically just and resilient communities. We were founded by Superstorm Sandy survivors in October 2014. NJRP is an affiliate of People’s Action Institute.

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About People’s Action

People’s Action is a national network of 40 state and local grassroots, power-building organizations united in fighting for justice. Our organization recently released a vision for a national Homes Guarantee that has already prompted major legislation from champions including U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib. We operate the largest progressive rural organizing project in the country. Prior to endorsing Sen. Bernie Sanders for president, we completed a national forum series that The Nation called “the most in-depth, people-powered forum” of the 2020 cycle.”

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