The coronavirus pandemic isn't stopping survivors of Superstorm Sandy from marking the eighth anniversary of the historically destructive storm, or from continuing their fight for the many folks who are still not back in their homes.

More than 2,900 days after the storm made landfall in New Jersey, hundreds of individuals remain in the Garden State's primary rebuilding initiative, the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program, according to state data. At the same time, advocates say, many individuals who've rebuilt or are in the process of doing so are battling "clawbacks" by the federal government that seek repayment of government grant funding they were told to request.

"Don't you feel people should have the opportunity to put this behind them? When does this end?" asked Jody Stewart with New Jersey Organizing Project.

The project, a grassroots group created in the wake of the hurricane, is hosting an online "community gathering" on the eighth anniversary, Oct. 29 at 12:30 p.m.

"We can all be safe but still unified, and be together, and remember and hold each other up," Stewart said.

At 12:45 that day, Ortley Beach residents will join New Jersey Congressman Andy Kim in Seaside Heights to mark the anniversary, and individuals will gather at the site of an ongoing home construction project in Ventnor, weather permitting.

Since its launch in 2019, a $50 million Supplemental Fund for Sandy-impacted homeowners in the state's RREM Program and Low-to-Moderate Income Homeowner Rebuilding Program received 529 applications. As of Oct. 26, according to the Department of Community Affairs, 153 fund awards have been made and/or are being processed. Most applicants have been told they're not eligible — to be eligible, homeowners must still be in the construction phase of their rebuilding project, must have received the max grant of $150,000 from the RREM Program or LMI Program, and must have a program-calculated unmet need.

"For many of those awarded Supplemental Funds, grant money and insurance funds were not enough to complete the project and those funds remained unspent for years," a DCA spokesperson said. "Now that their projects are fully funded through the Supplemental Fund, they have initiated construction, are drawing down their original grant funding, and are utilizing their insurance payouts with the confidence they’ll have enough money to complete their project."

In May, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez introduced legislation that would block the federal government from attempting to recoup debt owed by residents in relation to major declared disasters between 2006 and 2020. NJOP has said this move would keep hundreds of millions of dollars in the Garden State.

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