In last year's State of the State Address, Governor Christie said, "The bottom line is this: we are a long way from the finish line, but we are a long way from where we were one year ago. Challenges remain and I will not rest until every person hurt by Sandy has their life back. That is my mission." This past July, the Governor again commented that almost half of his time is spent on "Sandy stuff," (1) yet yesterday, he made no mention of Sandy recovery efforts.
It could be because there are no more crying constituents to comfort, only angry residents who more than two years later want desperately to get back home. It could be because there was nothing to tout - it's commonly known that the state's marquee recovery program - the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation or RREM program - has largely let down the thousands of families it is meant to serve.
One of those residents is Sandy survivor, Lisa Stevens. Lisa - a Little Egg Harbor resident and fellow member of the NJ Organizing Project - is still awaiting RREM funding to elevate her home. She traveled to Trenton yesterday hoping to hear a road map forward in Christie's speech. She was more than disappointed. "Governor Christie, you can spend all your time out of state, but you can't hide from the mess you've made of Sandy recovery," she said. "More than two years later, your state program to help families get home has only completed 328 homes, when 40,500 homes were damaged in the storm. You've got 1.1 billion dollars sitting there to distribute, and only 345 million is out the door."
When I was volunteering in Belmar - the town where I grew up - in the month following the storm, what struck me most was the assistance community members and volunteers were providing to each other to finish the job and get families home. For many, particularly the senior citizens in town, I remember thinking, "What would these families have done if we hadn't shown up and helped each other out?" Thousands of volunteers answered the call in those first weeks after the storm. When we finished with the emergency clean ups and clear outs, we expected our leaders in Trenton to pick up the ball and help families rebuild.
We took the Governor at his word when he said on January 14, 2014, "Helping Sandy-impacted families get back in their homes is the top priority of my Administration."
Clearly it is not his top priority as evidenced yesterday. His failures on Sandy recovery do not fit within the narrative for his Presidential aspirations. He cannot spin it, so he ignores it, and in doing so, he ignores thousands of NJ Sandy survivors and their communities.
Since the Governor has clearly abandoned our fellow New Jerseyans and our communities - it's time for us to show up again and help. But this time it's not about clearing out basements and tearing down dry wall. Now it's about standing up and speaking out until the Governor finishes the job. That's why I am a co-founder of the Finish the Job campaign (www.finishthejobnj.org), a grassroots effort started by Sandy survivors and their supporters.
Our goal is to get every Sandy survivor back in their home. To reach this goal, we will continue to demand transparency, fiscal accountability and operational efficiency from the Governor and his staff on Sandy recovery efforts.