Ida, 1 year later — NJ families still fighting to get home
Maryann Morris has been draining her funds to live in an apartment in Bridgewater since October with her young daughter, as she continues a handful of battles aimed at eventually returning to her home in Manville that was destroyed by Ida one year ago.
"We will not have a kitchen, but we will be moving back at the end of September, into a partial house," Morris told New Jersey 101.5. "I am scared to go back to the house, but I know that I can't afford $3,000 a month in rent."
The return home comes just in time for the end of her mortgage forbearance, which is set to expire on Oct. 1.
Since the remnants of Hurricane Ida struck New Jersey on Sept. 1, 2021, Morris has learned that she would not be reimbursed for the initial thousands of dollars she had spent on hotel stays, and that her required flood insurance policy would not be covering critical pieces of her home that were pummeled by sewage water the night of the storm.
Currently, she's waiting on FEMA to investigate her case and determine whether she deserves more from the insurance company.
"If I don't get more from them, I'm going to have to figure out a way to get myself into more debt, just to fix the house," Morris said.
Morris represents just one of the many New Jersey families still fighting to make themselves whole, following the storm that delivered tornadoes and catastrophic, deadly flooding. Ida 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.
"Now when it rains, I'm afraid to fall asleep," said Debby Josephs, who managed to move back into her Manville home in April, but still sees water coming into her home during storms.
Josephs and one of her sons were rescued by the fire department in a boat, after waking up around 5 a.m. on Sept. 2 to find her neighborhood underwater.
"This was my proud and joy, being able to buy this home," she said. "For seven months, I didn't sleep until I was able to get home, and at least have a roof over my head to call my own."
Josephs had to take on debt in the form of a Small Business Administration loan in order to stay afloat, not knowing that making such a move would make her ineligible for other forms of help. Meanwhile, Josephs said, she's dealing with a "contractor from hell" and waiting on her insurance company to provide more assistance.
The public comment period is open now, on New Jersey's plans to spend more than $228 million in federal Ida recovery funds. The spending plan was developed, in part, through survey responses from impacted residents. These are "last in" dollars for folks who've exhausted other routes of financial assistance.
According to New Jersey Organizing Project, an advocate for storm survivors, $228 million "is not nearly enough" for all Ida-impacted families to recover, and many survivors will be left without sufficient help.
The group is calling for an increase in funding of $160 million, to be pulled from federal pandemic aid and other possible federal funding sources.