A Year After Sandy: Poor Still Out in Cold

Housing advocates say that New Jersey disproportionately allocated recovery funds to those less in need of help.

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On Monday, McNeil found himself face-to-face with a young woman in an Ocean County homeless tent city, which public officials are trying to clear. Hurricane Sandy slashed business in the restaurant where the woman worked, forcing her boss to cut her hours and, effectively, her pay. Soon the woman couldn't pay her rent and lost her apartment. The woman told McNeil that she had never received a return phone call from the New Jersey storm-victim hotline where she was told she could apply for aid.

Unfortunately, the woman's story isn't unique, says Walsh. Housing activists around the state have heard so many similar stories that they suspect a pattern. People who had the time, transportation and accurate information needed to visit a storm-recovery-aid office to apply in person appear to have been more likely to be approved for all types of aid.

Those who couldn't get to a center, who could not take hours or days off from work to apply in person and instead applied online or via telephone, were told that they would be contacted with an appointment time when their supporting documents would be scanned into the state's "paperless" disaster-aid system. Many of those appointments were never set, Walsh says.

"That may sound fine, until you start to think about who disproportionately could not come to those centers in person," said Walsh. "Effectively, you had the people in the greatest need put in a position where they have received the least help."

Janell Ross is a reporter in New York who covers political and economic issues. She is working on a book about race, economic inequality and the recession, due to be published by Beacon Press next year. Follow her on Twitter.

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