LINCROFT, N.J. -- When Superstorm Sandy barreled through New Jersey last October, she left behind the kind of wreckage often dreamed up by Hollywood for big-screen disaster films.
The largest tropical storm ever to form in the mid-Atlantic basin tore up utility lines, flooded sewage treatment facilities, disrupted transportation links, downed trees, washed out roads and bridges and pushed hundreds of shorefront homes into the ocean.
Wide swaths of the state were without power for weeks. Traffic signals were down. Phone lines were out. Train, bus and ferry services were out of commission.
Recovery efforts began immediately, and nine months later, the work of rebuilding and restoring is still under way.
In dozens of New Jersey communities, dredges, cranes, utility trucks and construction crews are now familiar parts of the landscape.
And as the recovery progresses, the costs mount.
A disaster of this magnitude could potentially bankrupt the budgets of many of New Jersey’s 565 municipalities and result in unprecedented tax increases for property owners.
But thanks to the support of the state and federal government, New Jersey taxpayers don’t have to bear the enormous costs of this catastrophe alone.
As authorized under the Stafford Act, when a major disaster such as Superstorm Sandy occurs anywhere in the United States, the governor of an impacted state may determine that the nature and extent of the emergency exceeds the state’s ability to respond effectively and ask the president to declare a disaster.
A governor’s request is relayed to the president through the regional office of the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the governor has established that the state has taken appropriate action under state law and has executed its emergency plan.
The provisions of the Stafford Act also apply to the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and tribal nations.
Once a governor makes a request for federal assistance, state and federal officials conduct a Preliminary Damage Assessment to estimate the extent of the disaster and its impact on individuals and public facilities.
Once made, that declaration authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, to mobilize its resources to assist the state in recovery.
FEMA assistance is tailored to the character of the disaster. Assistance may include outreach to individuals and families through FEMA’s Housing and Other Needs program, and Public Assistance, which provides supplemental Federal disaster grants for distribution by the state to eligible applicants such as local governments and certain private nonprofits.
These grants can be applied to the cost of disaster-related debris removal, emergency protective measures, repair, replacement, or restoration of publicly-owned facilities as well as those of eligible nonprofits such as medical, educational, utility, emergency and custodial care agencies.
The Public Assistance Program also provides grant assistance to eligible applicants for hazard mitigation measures designed to reduce the risk of damage in a future disaster.
The Federal share of assistance is not less than 75 percent of the eligible cost for emergency measures and permanent restoration. When the cost of disaster recovery exceeds a certain amount, as it has in New Jersey following Superstorm Sandy, the federal government may increase the federal cost-share to 90 percent.
FEMA awards its grants to the state of New Jersey, which distributes federal eligible funding to the applicants. FEMA provides 90 percent of the cost of eligible projects. The remaining 10 percent of eligible costs is borne by state and local government.
To date, nearly $800 million in federal grants has been disbursed by FEMA’s Public Assistance division to pay for the cost of emergency response, debris removal, dredging, replenishment of engineered beaches eroded by Sandy, reconstruction of public boardwalks and streets, restoration of sewage treatment facilities and rebuilding of taxpayer-supported infrastructure.
Among the projects presently under way is the replacement of the Belmar boardwalk, which is funded by a $9.2 million FEMA grant, $26.1 million to the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission for the repair of one of the largest wastewater treatment facilities in the nation, $17.3 million for the reconstruction of the Atlantic Highlands Marina and $2.2 million for costs involved in the restoration of sand and dune grass on Strathmere Beach in Upper Township.
So while the name “FEMA” doesn’t appear on construction vehicles or worksites, FEMA dollars are hard at work in New Jersey, supporting the state in their mission to rebuild and restore the quality of life that makes New Jersey and the Jersey Shore the place that more than 8.8 million people choose to call home.
FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.
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