START Leader, Filmmakers Talk in Washington About Rebuilding Status Two Years Since Sandy

Nov 06, 2014
Courtesy of: START At the screening in Washington, D.C., of ‘This Time Next Year’ are (from left) director Farihah Zaman; Rosie Allen-Herring, president and CEO of United Way of the National Capital Area; Sam Championof The Weather Channel; film director Jeff Reichert; Joe Mangino of START; and Ryan Harrington of the Tribeca Film Institute. The film tracks the resilience of the Long Beach Island-area community for one year as the residents rebuild after Sandy.

Two years after Sandy, START founders were in Washington, D.C. for a movie screening of “This Time Next Year” – talking about the resilience of the Stafford Township community but also about how much remains to be done as too many residents still await funds to rebuild.

The film that tracks residents’ resilience is getting national attention – this screening was held at the National Building Museum with support from The Rockefeller Foundation and the Tribeca Film Institute, and was hosted by anchorman Sam Champion from The Weather Channel. Another screening was held in New York City.

Joe Mangino, co-founder with Mike Dunlea of START (Stafford Teachers and Residents Together), told the audience at the screening about the grassroots group of volunteer teachers and staff from the Stafford Township School District who in just the first month after Superstorm Sandy had helped clean up more than 400 homes, saving residents an estimated $1 million. Those figures had roughly doubled seven months later when the town council recognized the effort at a municipal meeting.

But the proverbial elephant in the room at the National Museum was the discrepancy between the $1.1 billion pledged in RREM (Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation) funds for homeowners vs. the $179 million that has been distributed, as Mangino’s figures point out.

“Most of the discussion post-screening was about rebuilding and the work that the local grassroots groups did and the work that the federal and state government did or didn’t do,” Mangino said, “and it actually got a little spirited because I was pointing out the faults of the federal government and their slow response, and a few people took some offense to that and wanted to point out the work that they did.

“I tried to compare the work that START did with strictly manpower and a few gift cards, compared to the response of FEMA with their billions of dollars.”

Mangino, a Beach Haven West resident, summed up the two-year anniversary of START’s founding as “celebrating the progress that we’ve made, knowing that we have a long way to go.”

He knows of too many neighbors in his community and others who are not back in their homes yet, two years after the storm.

“That’s the problem – here we are two years after and they don’t physically have the money to move forward. They’re not even, I don’t even want to say standing still; technically they’re going backwards because they’re exhausting any money that they had, including retirement funds, just to survive. It’s a shame that two years out, so many still have to fight.”

Asked whether many problems now regard individual, personal details with homeowners’ applications, he said that is not quite the case.

“It seems like among people who have the problems, most of them have the same problems,” Mangino said. “They’re still fighting with insurance, or they qualified for one of these programs but they can’t physically get the money.

“The state is claiming that a billion dollars is committed, but committed doesn’t mean that people have the money in their hands, and that’s a huge issue. That’s all we’re hearing right now, is that money is tied up in red tape and they can’t move forward.”

As a well-known entity in the community, START is still in touch with its neighbors, and its mission will continue to evolve. But it is not in the business of handing out government money or talking with an insurance company, and that is frustrating.

“It’s frustrating for me and a group like START because this isn’t really in our wheelhouse of things to do,” Mangino remarked. “It was a lot easier for us when we could just demo a house or move somebody back in. This is on a different level. All we can really do is complain, and it’s unfortunate ... I wish we could write them the check and say here you go, rebuild.”

Asked for his opinion on what should be happening now, Mangino said, “The two-year anniversary should be a signal for people to get more active and demand that this money be released as quickly as possible.”

He also said he is a believer in funds being allocated to local municipalities rather than to have to trickle down from higher levels.

Coincidentally, at the same time as this interview, Spring Lake resident and former Asbury Park councilman Jim Keady was heckling Gov. Christie to “finish the job” of getting residents back in their homes. Video of the Belmar press conference went viral after Christie eventually told Keady to “sit down and shut up.”

Keady is in Waretown part of the week to run the family’s restaurant/bar Lighthouse Tavern, but could not be reached for comment and did not return emails this week to say whether he thought the publicity would make a difference. Christie, for his part, has blamed federal red tape for delays.

Unaffiliated with START, Keady is active with the Finish the Job Campaign that is part of the New Jersey Organizing Project. More details and a petition are available at finishthejobnj.org.

“We can’t finish the job when we don’t have the money to do it, are sitting on a waitlist, or have been falsely rejected or are stuck in appeals. ... We can’t finish the job when requirements keep changing or it’s not clear what it takes to move forward,” the Finish the Job literature sums up.

Meanwhile, anyone who missed the screening of “This Time Next Year” on LBI last summer should have another chance soon. Mangino is working on a date to air the film in Stafford Township, hopefully in December.

— Maria Scandale

mariascandale@thesandpaper.net

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