Superstorm Victims Tell Woes to State Panel [AUDIO]
Victims of Superstorm Sandy are still finding themselves in a web of red tape and bureaucratic nightmares, many unable to return home almost a year later.
The meeting room in Toms River was packed for the fourth and final joint meeting of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee on Hurricane Sandy Recovery.
While everyone's story was different, many shared recurring themes of lack of communication with government officials, confusion about the rebuilding process, and being jerked around by insurance companies.
Michael Mazzucca, of Stafford, says he still lives in a hotel room that he pays for out of pocket, while the rebuilding of his family's home sits in limbo.
"I literally live out of a duffle bag. My wife lives out of the same and my son lives out of the same," Mazzucca explained.
Mazzucca's family can't even live together, because their home is uninhabitable. He says his 15-year-old daughter lives with his ex-wife in North Carolina, while his son attends college in New York City. He says they try to connect once a week.
The Stafford accountant says their insurance only paid for a fraction of the claim, before dropping them completely.
"So we're in the midst of a construction project that we can't afford, because we went under the premise that we would be able to receive money from our insurance company," he said.
He adds several of their grant applications were rejected because of a clerical error by the state over his wife's maiden name.
All of the statements from panels will be showed to Governor Christie and the New Jersey Legislature in order to create more efficient policies for disaster recovery, relating to Sandy and future events.
Assemblywoman Grace Spencer (D-29) says it's clear there is a lot of confusion and a lack of communication between residents and government officials; specifically regarding the application and distribution of RREM grants.
"People are wondering where exactly are they in receiving the RREM grants, people are asking why certain questions have been answered. They're wondering, 'how much money is out there and where is it going?""
Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable received criticism from members of the panel and residents in attendance, over what they felt was a lack of transparency from his department.
Constable, as well as Marc Ferzan, executive director of the Governor's Office of Recovery and Rebuilding, was invited to speak on the status of Sandy recovery efforts. Both did not attend.
Spencer says with so many residents still unable to return home, ultimately, they bear the brunt of the blame.
"Has the government failed the people? Yes we have. People aren't in their homes and we have a responsibility to them as elected officials to do the best job we can. For the most part, we thought we were doing the best job, and maybe we could have done things differently, but right now we haven't done a good job of getting people back home."