[Posted by Ana Baptista]
Newark Star-Ledger, Oct. 8, 2013
By Erin O’Neill
A Latino advocacy organization filed a complaint against the Christie administration today charging the state with failing to provide accurate information to Spanish-speaking residents about major Hurricane Sandy grant initiatives.
The Latino Action Network said the website where residents may apply for storm recovery funding outlines the appeals process for individuals whose grant applications were denied in English, but not in Spanish. The group also said in the complaint filed with the state Department of Community Affairs that the Spanish-language version of the "reNew Jersey Stronger" website listed incorrect application deadlines and hours of operation for local recovery offices .
“It’s vital information that could make all the difference in the world,” for a resident trying to recover from the Oct. 29 storm, said Christian Estevez, vice president of the Latino Action Network.
The state Department of Community Affairs is responsible for distributing the majority of federal funds allocated to New Jersey by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for Sandy recovery. Among the grant initiatives is the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation, or RREM, program. Eligible homeowners may receive up to $150,000 to help them rebuild or repair their homes through that initiative.
Another grant called the Resettlement program offers homeowners $10,000 to remain in the county where they lived before Sandy for three years.
Frank Argote-Freyre, the president of the Latino Action Network, wrote in a letter to Richard Constable, III, commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs, that those programs “fail to provide critical and legally mandated documents, forms and other information to Spanish speakers in the language in which they are proficient.”
Lisa Ryan, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs, said in an e-mail, "We are working hard to accommodate our Spanish-speaking residents who have been trying to access the many programs available for those impacted by Sandy. We are looking into the issues raised by this group, and if there are areas that need to be addressed, we will take action immediately."
Argote-Freyre called on the state Department of Community Affairs to take a number of steps, including: correcting all issues within seven days, agreeing to extend all deadlines for individuals who say they were impacted by incorrect Spanish-language information and appointing a monitor to ensure information is provided correctly to Spanish-language speaking residents.
The Latino Action Network has publicly endorsed state Sen. Barbara Buono, a Democrat from Middlesex County, in the gubernatorial race, against her opponent Gov. Chris Christie.
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