9 months since Ida, NJ survivors still waiting for funds, answers
The storm continues for plenty of New Jerseyans who were impacted or displaced by the remnants of Ida nine months ago.
Marking the first day of hurricane season, Ida survivors, advocates, and federal lawmakers gathered in Trenton on Wednesday to shine a light on the lingering impacts of the storm, and to call for changes to the disaster recovery process for when the next catastrophe hits.
"We need help and we need help now," said Shashuna Atwater, a resident of Newark. "Why wait for another disaster?"
Atwater's basement was flooded by Ida when it struck the Garden State on Sept. 1, 2021. Since then, in order to receive financial assistance, she said, she's submitted every piece of documentation that had been requested by the federal government.
"Almost one year, nothing. No one has spoke to me," she said.
Milford resident Leanna Jones said she was informed by FEMA that she wouldn't receive assistance because she has flood insurance on her home. But her insurer informed her that it would not be able to cover tens of thousands of dollars' worth of necessary repair work.
"It's just ridiculous, nine months in," Jones said. "I just thought there would be a way to navigate this process and there just hasn't been."
The storm resulted in major disaster declarations for residents, businesses and local governments in the counties of Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Passaic, Somerset, Union, and Warren.
According to an update in early May from Gov. Phil Murphy's office, FEMA had provided more than $247 million in individual assistance to more than 44,000 New Jerseyans impacted by Ida. Organizations in New Jersey fear that number may be too low, and worry that Ida survivors, like many of the residents impacted by Sandy in 2020, will be waiting endlessly for answers and funds.
"As hurricane season officially beings, we already know our communities in New Jersey are at risk," said U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J. 3rd District. "Too many of my constituents in Ocean County are still struggling to recover from Superstorm Sandy after nine years."
Groups such as New Jersey Organizing Project and Fair Share Housing Center are calling for passage of the Reforming Disaster Recovery Act, which would establish a permanent program with permanent rules related to recovery from future disasters.
"The current system — which treats disasters as one off, totally unpredictable events that each require new congressional action — makes no sense when we know that climate change is driving the increased frequency and severity of disasters," the groups said. "This poorly-designed system is one of the reasons Ida survivors have not seen grant funds more than nine months after the storm."