Storm Survivors, 16 Advocacy Orgs Recognize Sandy, Major Storm Anniversaries & Release New Report On Fixing Federal Disaster Recovery System


October 29, 2022

Katie Baker, Petkanas Strategies

Dozens of Storm Survivors, 16 Grassroots Organizations From New Jersey, Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Puerto Rico Gathered to Mark 10-year Anniversary of Superstorm Sandy and 5-year anniversary of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, 1-year Anniversary of Hurricane Ida 

Release New Roadmap With Recommendations For Congress and Federal Government To Improve Broken Federal Disaster Response System’s Ability To Handle Increased Severity & Frequency Of Storms Due to Climate Change 

Recommendations Include Distributing Disaster Recovery Funding Faster, Reforming Flood Insurance Program  

The Full Report Can Be Found Here  

Photos from the Event Will Be Uploaded Here 


PORT MONMOUTH, NJ – Today, a coalition of storm survivors, fifteen advocacy organizations and lawmakers from New Jersey, Texas, Florida, Louisiana and Puerto Rico gathered to commemorate the anniversaries of major storms in their states and release a new report detailing policy recommendations addressing how the federal national disaster response systems leave communities stranded during climate disasters, and force them to wait too long for emergency resources to flow. 

The recommendations in the report are based on the challenges experienced by storm survivors across the country, who are the real experts on disaster recovery. They call for desperately needed action from Congress and the federal government to build a functional recovery system that can handle the increased severity and frequency of storms due to climate change.    

The event occurred on the 10-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, acknowledging this year as the 5-year anniversaries of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, 1-year anniversary of Hurricane Ida, and as communities in Puerto Rico and Florida are struggling to recover from this year’s Hurricanes Fiona and Ian. It was held at the home of a Superstorm Sandy survivor who was only able to complete repairs in February 2020 – eight years after the disaster.  

The event was hosted by a collaboration of leading organizers from across the country who have navigated climate disasters for years, including Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico), Center for Habitat Reconstruction (Puerto Rico), Fair Share Housing Center (New Jersey), Florida Rising (Florida), HousingNOLA (Louisiana), Houston Organizing Movement for Equity (Texas), Jobs With Justice (national), Maria Fund (Puerto Rico), New Jersey Organizing Project and New Jersey Resource Project (New Jersey), PolicyLink(national), Power Coalition for Equity and Justice (Louisiana), Taller Salud (Puerto Rico), Texas Appleseed (Texas), Unemployed Workers United (national) and Workers Defense Project (Texas).

About The Report  

“This paper was written by a group of leaders who have navigated multiple disasters for decades and are building tools and networks to strengthen our response to major storms and climate events. Our goal is to address both the immediate humanitarian needs on the ground and advance long term structural change and equitable recovery,” reads the introduction to the report.  

The authors continued: “We are united–across geography, race, and class–to make sure no disaster survivor faces this broken system again. As extreme climate events become more frequent and severe, it is clear that the cost of inaction is too great. The current United States disaster recovery system is not designed for the ever increasing frequency and severity of disaster events and the United States cannot afford to put off changes to the disaster recovery system that protect all communities in the coming years.”  

The report lays out recommendations organized into five themes:  

  1. Get disaster recovery money to people faster.
  2. All survivors deserve access to a full and fair recovery system that serves our communities equitably.  
  3. Flood insurance should work for disaster survivors, not against them.  
  4. Recovery does not mean everything goes back to the way it was before. All communities and families should not only recover but be less vulnerable to future disasters.
  5. Disaster recovery reform must be systemic, not piecemeal.  

A few key recommendations from the report include: 

  • FEMA must revise its processes to both get money into people’s hands faster and deny fewer applications in crisis situations. To ensure applicants aren’t wrongfully denied benefits that meet their basic needs FEMA must provide adequate notice and information about why an application has been denied and inform the applicant of their appeal rights.  
  • Storm survivors are left waiting a year or more for federal grant funds leading to delays in rebuilding. Congress should permanently authorize CDBG-DR funding through the Department of Housing and Urban Development to eliminate the delays in assistance and standardize grant requirements.  
  • Federal funds are not readily available to fund advance investments in mitigation to make communities and families safer during storms. FEMA should pay 100% of the mitigation costs upfront for less affluent homeowners’ individual housing units, not as a reimbursement. FEMA should also reduce or eliminate non-federal cost share for projects that provide mitigation for or relocate public and assisted housing.
  • Only flood insurance covers flooding damage, but it is too expensive for many families or not offered at all because of out of date mapping. Flood insurance should be made available to everyone regardless of income or geography. The report advocates creating a means-tested flood insurance voucher program and capping annual increases at 9%.    
  • Disaster recovery is an overly complicated system to navigate leaving many storm survivors without access to the resources they need. The federal government should develop an interagency plan to coordinate FEMA, HUD, SBA, and other federal agencies involved in disaster recovery and mitigation based on feedback from disaster survivors. An interagency plan will create a shared data framework, ensure survivors are tracked across programs, address any gaps among programs, and eliminate outdated duplication of benefits regulations that hurt storm survivors.
  • Government decisions about how to spend public funds for public benefit should not be solely based on economic value and must consider both qualitative and quantitative factors. FEMA should reform the federal benefit-cost analysis (BCA) requirement so economic value alone does not drive funding allocation.  
  • To avoid delay in the deployment of recovery resources, the federal government should work with states, territories, and tribes to identify federal programs that can be automatically provided by the without requiring separate requests from jurisdictions. 

The full report can be found here

Statements from survivors and advocacy organizations: 

“On the tenth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, we remember all too well the devastation that this storm inflicted on our state and survivors,” said Congressman Frank Pallone. “Across the country, major weather events are turning too many Americans into survivors of these terrible events. This storm and storms since then, including Hurricane Ida, are exactly why I’ve fought for federal funding to make sure our state is better protected from major storms and flooding. I also fought for families who were decimated by Superstorm Sandy by securing in a House spending bill forgiveness of millions of dollars they owe through no fault of their own. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still work to do. In Congress, I’m fighting for a better flood insurance program that prevents insurance companies and contractors from taking advantage of homeowners. I’ll continue to fight for New Jerseyans and storm survivors nationwide.”  

“After 10 years, my neighbors are still recovering from the lingering, devastating effects of Superstorm Sandy,” said Congressman Andy Kim. “Today I heard stories from people here in New Jersey and around the country who need help. We’ve made big strides in providing relief to towns and schools, but some homeowners are still in need after a decade, and they need relief as well. Thank you to the New Jersey Organizing Project for continuing to highlight Superstorm Sandy recovery, what we’ve gotten done, and where we can go from here to be prepared for the next storm that comes to New Jersey.”

“Ten years after Superstorm Sandy, our disaster recovery system still fails to ensure that all residents, especially those from low-income families and communities of color, are able to access the relief they need to rebuild their lives,” said Fair Share Housing Center Director of Land Use Katherine Payne. “Funding for mitigation and resilience must be prioritized on the local, state, and federal levels,” said Katherine Payne, Director of Land Use at Fair Share Housing Center. “The voices and experiences of disaster survivors must be centered in any and all policymaking about disaster relief–they are the true experts on these issues. Disasters are an unfortunate reality, but our response to them can–and must–be better.”

“The lack of a disaster recovery system has left me feeling like I must be doing something wrong, but in hearing everyone’s stories in NJOP meetings it’s clear that insurance companies and a lack of real emergency and mitigation funding is what’s failing us,” said Hurricane Ida survivor Leanna Jones.

“Puerto Rico has been hit with three devastating disasters in the last five years — Hurricane Maria in 2017, a 6.4 earthquake in January 2020 and Hurricane Fiona less than two months ago. Hurricane Fiona – a category one storm – hit especially hard in an area of the island where there were still hundreds of blue tarp roofs from Maria, and knocked out Puerto Rico’s entire power grid,” said Maria Fund Executive Director Xiomara Caro-Diaz. “These are just two ways the storm exposed how little recovery has happened in the five years from Maria. Puerto Rico’s federal recovery money is also controlled by a fiscal control board created by Congress which is deepening decades of structural racism and colonialism, including adding barriers to disaster relief funds reaching the people who need it. Puerto Ricans and all communities that get hit by disaster deserve a system that honors their dignity. Maria Fund stands with the movement groups in Puerto Rico and beyond who are demanding these critical reforms that would make the US disaster system more effective and equitable.”

“Sandy exposed the flaws of an outdated and broken disaster recovery system,” said NJOP Board President and Sandy Survivor Joe Mangino. “An unwelcome opportunity to better prepare our communities for the next storm was wasted in the rush to return to normal. Survivors navigated a program that didn’t provide a full and fair recovery for all communities. And long delays in receiving desperately needed funds only deepened the wounds left behind when the flood waters receded. That’s why it’s so important we’re standing with disaster survivors from around the country on the 10th anniversary to call for change for New Jersey and all of us.”

“The past twenty years have been marked by tragedy as disaster after catastrophe after crisis has upended the lives of Americans,” said Housing NOLA Executive Director Andreanecia M. Morris. We can no longer pretend these incidents are challenges that the people simply have to endure. Resiliency should no longer be measured by how much devastation a community can survive; it must be measured by the ability to protect and shelter the most vulnerable people from disasters. After 9/11, hurricanes, super storms, wildfires, and COVID, we must be ready for what comes next. The current strategy of simply responding without an equity lens has left us with a weakened infrastructure and little capacity to actually become resilient. Instead, Americans exist in a forced reality of living with less, simply because federal funding doesn’t require that state and local governments center recovery investments around the needs of people.” 

“Five years after Hurricane Harvey, there remains ample proof that low-income households of color have yet to recover from the storm or prior disasters,” said H.O.M.E. Coalition Executive Director Chrishelle Palay. When natural disasters happen, disparity deepens and the likelihood of recovering and thriving lessens. An equitable disaster response and recovery system, centering the communities with the greatest need, must be created. Without crucial systemic changes, our country will be stuck in a perpetual state of recovery.

“Fixing a broken system requires understanding the connections between systemic racism, colonialism, and displacement,” said Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico Executive Director Ariadna Godreau. “Our fight for a just recovery is a fight for the right to stay and return to our homes and lands. Because disasters are political, our response is full of agency and power.”

“Ironically, Hurricane Fiona gave us the opportunity to test our improved skills and apply learned lessons almost exactly five years after Hurricane Maria,” said Taller Salud Executive Director Tania Rosario-Mendez. “To our dismay, organizers and first responders on the ground proved to be equipped for critical decision making and frameworks for analysis and to respond in a very effective and coordinated respond; whereas the state government just proved to be a giant obstacle. 

“It is more than time that we fixed our broken response to disasters in this country,” said Power Coalition for Equity and Justice President & CEO Ashley K. Shelton. “Almost 20 years after hurricane Katrina, ten years since Sandy and Harvey and a year since Ida and a true recovery continues to be elusive for far too many. Billions in recovery dollars fuel disaster capitalism while renters, homeowners and communities continuously struggle to piece their lives back together in the face of foreclosure, clawbacks, insurer fraud, FEMA programs that do not work, contractor fraud and deteriorating housing stock. I am proud to work with advocates across the country to make recommendations to solve the systemic problems with federal disaster recovery by centering impacted people and ensuring short, mid and long term solutions that work and provide dignity.”

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