Sandy One Year Later: Where We Succeeded & Where We Still Fight
Tonight residents of New Jersey will publicly gather with their neighbors or privately with their families to mark the anniversary of a day we'd all rather forget. One year later, the physical, emotional and financial scars of Hurricane Sandy remain visible in many communities. No one questions the challenges and setbacks New Jersey has faced since Sandy, just as no one doubts our resilience and determination to rebuild stronger and smarter. It is critical at this junction to recognize where we have succeeded in our recovery and where we still must fight.
In the past year, New Jersey and other Sandy-affected states have had to rightly justify each federal dollar of emergency aid requested. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo were thoughtful, comprehensive and responsible in their requests, identifying projects such as mass transit repairs, shore and flood protection efforts and public infrastructure systems that required immediate attention. They also sought to mitigate potential destruction from future storms by making long-term, strategic decisions during rebuilding, including shore protection measures up and down the coast. While adding weeks to the rebuilding process, necessary Federal Emergency Management Agency reforms better protected taxpayers following the billions of wasted dollars in response to Hurricane Katrina.
We will not soon forget the intentional delays by some in Congress in approving the $51 billion Sandy Emergency Supplemental Aid package, unnecessarily creating a disaster in dealing with a disaster. However, we also did not turn vengeful when states such as Colorado and Oklahoma requested federal aid in the aftermath of their deadly floods and tornadoes. We stood strong in solidarity and support in their time of need. Throughout the past year, we've proven why being "Jersey Strong" does not mean sacrificing our compassion and commitment to our fellow Americans.
In other areas, the fight goes on. The effort continues to secure equitable treatment for South Jersey residents and other affected communities. One key piece is the "Hurricane Sandy Tax Relief Act," which would provide tax relief for affected individuals, businesses and municipalities. This bipartisan legislation is modeled after a similar law passed in the wake of Katrina and would be an asset in getting our families and businesses, already struggling due to a stagnant economy, back on their feet.
Pending flood insurance premium rate increases continue to be a significant concern for many residents and communities. While we've seen the initial advisory flood maps scaled back to reflect the accurate topography of South Jersey and the best available scientific data, the proposed premium changes will still weigh heavy on those living in seaside and bayshore communities who seek to move forward with their lives. Scheduled rate increases mandated by law prior to Sandy are compounding the emotional and financial strain on policyholders and negatively impacting the local real estate market. In addition to legislation I've previously introduced to reduce the impact of these rate changes, I am working in partnership with my congressional colleagues and local officials to find a positive solution on both of these issues.
Outreach to affected homeowners and businesses is ongoing, ensuring they are aware of state and federal funding opportunities such as the low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration, housing grants and financial counseling. I've sought to facilitate constant communication and coordination between hard-hit communities, state agencies and the federal Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, an effort that is critical to minimizing delays and cutting red tape. Just this week, we received word of another $1.4 billion in federal aid being transferred to the state for rebuilding efforts. As additional programs come online or application deadlines are extended, my office will ensure that our mayors, chambers of commerce, public assistance groups and long-term recovery groups are kept abreast of developments and stand ready to assist in the weeks and months ahead.
Oct. 29, 2012, is a day that will never be forgotten by South Jersey residents. It is a day countless lives were abruptly, violently and forever changed. But it is also a day that demonstrated how the strength of our state's spirit shines brightest as first-responders worked tirelessly to ensure safety and order, communities banded together to endure and neighbors helped each other and strangers all caught up in Sandy's wrath. Our region has come a long way toward normalcy in the past 365 days. For too many, there remains a long way still to go. I am convinced, however, that the legacy of Sandy will not be the extent of her destruction, but our shared resolve to recover and rebuild in her aftermath.