NJ Spotlight, Feb. 14, 2014
By MATT KATZ
Much-criticized program has wrongly rejected many qualified aid applicants, advocacy group found
DCA Commissioner Richard Constable says the abrupt switch of contractors won’t affect Sandy victims waiting for aid from the program.
The Christie administration is quietly terminating a contract with a second company involved in a much-criticized program for Sandy victims, WNYC has learned.
Those homeowners who were relying on URS Corporation to supervise the rebuilding of their homes are being notified by state officials this week that the job will be picked up by another company.
"As we note in the letter, this change will have no impact on their assigned housing adviser or their case status," said Richard Constable III, the commissioner for the Department of Community Affairs, which signed the contract, in a statement.
URS signed a contract for about $20 million. But the $600 million Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program that it helped to run — which provides grants up to $150,000 — has come under fire from those it was intended to serve.
Applications were wrongly rejected, with a nonprofit advocacy group finding that 74 percent of those who appealed an RREM rejection were actually eligible. And at a hearing this week, Sandy victims complained of confusion and a nine-month wait for approved grant money. One man described the process as more stressful than when he was fighting in Afghanistan.
Christie officials have downplayed these problems, and an administration source says performance issues are not why URS’s contract is ending 15 months early. A spokeswoman for the Department of Community Affairs described the situation as part of the normal course of business: URS was one of three RREM program managers, and the state decided two were enough to handle the job.
But the firing is reminiscent of the situation of HGI (or Hammerman & Gainer), the biggest Sandy contractor, which was secretly fired in December. The termination was uncovered in January by WNYC, but the Christie administration has yet to explain what went wrong or why the company got a $10.5 million settlement.
The URS representative in New Jersey referred questions to the company’s spokesperson, who didn’t return a call and email for comment.
Matt Katz is a reporter for New Jersey Public Radio in collaboration with NJ Spotlight. NJPR is a division of WNYC.org.