$72 million in Sandy federal aid money has not yet been used to fix homes

$72 million in Sandy federal aid money has not yet been used to fix homes

POSTED: Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - 12:42pm

UPDATED: Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - 12:47pm

Hartford, CT (WFSB) -- More than 18 months after Superstorm Sandy devastated the Connecticut coastline, not $1 of the $72 million in federal aid that came into the state has been used to fix homes.

The program has strict guidelines. It's for primary residences only, not second homes. It's for unmet needs that weren't covered by insurance. Projects must be more than $10,000, and the maximum money per homeowner is $150,000.

Since Oct. 29, 2012, Laurie Robinson has been living in a camper in her driveway, her home destroyed by floodwaters driven ashore after Superstorm Sandy.

"There hasn't been any kind of timeline given," Robinson said.

Eyewitness News asked Robinson if she would be surprised if she ended up spending another year living in her driveway, and she responded, "No, not at all."

It's been more than 18 months after the storm, and the I-Team has found that there has been no actual construction yet. State Department of Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein said that's simply because of timing.

The storm hit in October 2012. It was in July of 2013 that $72 million in federal funding first became available to Connecticut.

That same month, the state's Department of Housing was created. The agency spent about a month getting up and running and then spent August preparing its application to the feds for how to use the funding. That was submitted on Sept. 1, and throughout the fall, applications were reviewed. There are 731 applications, which were culled down to the 250 who are in the program as of now.

The I-Team's review of the paperwork submitted by states up and down the East Coast found the most similarities between Connecticut and New Jersey. The Garden State was hit hard by Sandy, and out of 5,600 applications for aid, 2,000 homeowners are already in the construction phase. Meanwhile Connecticut's still waiting to break ground on project No. 1.

Eyewitness News asked, should people be concerned that 2,000 people are in the construction phase in New Jersey and none are in that phase here?"

"It's a different program," Klein said.

That's because to avoid fraud, no work done by others will be reimbursed, and only state-approved contractors can be used.

"There have been occasions where an architect has gone to a home, and it wasn't damaged by Sandy," Klein said.

At the Department of Housing, they insist they're doing a good job with the resources they were given. New York and New Jersey got many times more aid overall, and while New Jersey has thousands of homes already repaired, they also are spending 30 times more on the intake contractor they hired to move applications through the pipeline faster.

One fact is beyond dispute, and it doesn't implicate Klein or her staff. Two months before its agency even existed, New Jersey had applied for its federal aid. Connecticut chose instead to launch a new state agency first and then go to Uncle Sam for money.

In the meantime, Robinson is waiting to go home. Eyewitness News asked, "Would you be able to do this without the state's help?"

"No, and I'd be gone already," Robinson said. "I'm grateful for the help. I really am (frustrated).

Eyewitness News has the self-awareness to know that if the station had requested the records and found out that the $72 million was handed out willy-nilly over six months, we'd be talking about government waste.

There's no doubt they've chosen to be extremely careful and to safeguard taxpayer dollars. But that doesn't get Robinson or her neighbors back home.

Klein has promised that construction will happen in the next few weeks, and she's invited Eyewitness News to see the first groundbreaking.  

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