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Chuck Griffin | New Jersey Organizing Project | Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey

The strain of recovering from Hurricane Sandy

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I’m Chuck Griffin. 35 years ago, my wife and I bought a small, inexpensive house  in what was then known as Mystic Island. In October, I’ll be 70 years old.

We had to evacuate during Sandy and got more than three feet of water in our house. Our home was severely damaged. It was not livable but structurally sound. My wife and I have lived with her Mom for the last 3 ½ years. The guidelines for rebuilding after Sandy came in slowly and changed often. We have flood insurance and filed a claim.

Part of the rebuilding process included elevating our homes depending on our flood zone. RREM, New Jersey’s recovery grant program, provided us with a list of approved builders. We choose our builder with great care. We interviewed someone whose house was completed by our chosen builder. We also noted that our builder had lived in town for many years. His boys went through the local school system and he was the coach of the softball team.

We signed a contract and gave him a 1/3 deposit $55,000. He disconnected our utilities from the street and never came back. That was in June of last year. Throughout the state of New Jersey there are at least 50 other similar cases concerning the same builder.

We need to wait until the builder is charged with a crime and then ask RREM to help us get started again. Remember that I’m pushing 70, retired and on a fixed income. The thought of getting another mortgage is not an option.

This is just my story. Can you imagine the impact on the entire community? Many families are paying their mortgage and rent at the same time. Many have used up their retirement savings or borrowed from their pension fund. Many have taken loans or a new mortgage to get by, or used their children’s college fund.

And there are so many mental and physical effects that aren’t as obvious.

How many marriages haven’t been able to hold up to this strain? There is data that shows that childhood depression and sadness increased fourfold in children whose homes were damaged by Sandy. There are mold and asbestos issues. And so many families don’t have the money required for regular healthcare. The full health impact from Sandy might not be known for many years.

This is the here and now, but what about our future? Will we be able to afford to live here in 5 or 10 years? Will your property tax go up and the town rateables go down?

NJOP took a trip to New Orleans on their 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. We hoped to learn from them, new ways to repair our damage, what we need to do to prepare for the future. They had few answers and have made little progress. So what can we do to prepare ourselves for life at the Jersey Shore in the future ?

Social security needs to be expanded. Which would definitely help our communities stay here. We haven’t had a cost of living increase and we need one. There should also be a 5 year Social Security caregiver credit for people who are out of the workforce raising their children or caring for elderly relatives. We need help with those physical and mental health issues that I mentioned earlier.

It’s rumored that pensions for many state workers might become insolvent in 10 years. Can you imagine if you taught our children at the Jersey Shore for many years only to find out that you don’t have the pension that you were promised?

We hope to see passage of the National Disaster Tax Relief Act that would prevent victims from being taxed on expenses caused by a natural disasters.

We are still fighting to get home, but I’m standing up and speaking up for all of us so that we’re able to afford to stay home once we get there.