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Hurricane Sandy victims will get more federal help after all in bill Trump signed

By Jonathan D. Salant  |
NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

WASHINGTON — Two long-sought provisions designed to help Hurricane Sandy victims were added to an unrelated bill that was signed into law by President Donald Trump.

One would protect Sandy victims from having to pay back federal assistance if the government decides more than three years later that they received too much aid. The other would allow them to receive both Small Business Administration disaster loans and Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster assistance grants.

“The federal government has made it difficult for some in our community to recover from Sandy because of the actions of a few bad actors,” said Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-3rd Dist.

“Without this change in the law, FEMA could continue to change their mind on grants and make disaster victims pay back previously awarded disaster assistance, sometimes years after the award.”

Both provisions were championed by MacArthur and were added to legislation that continued Federal Aviation Administration operations for five years.

The FAA bill also included a House-passed provision sponsored by Rep. Donald Payne Jr. to have the Department of Homeland Security help develop plans for stronger security at passenger railroad stations and the non-secure areas of airports. 

“Heightened security has made attacks against aircraft more difficult to carry out, so terrorists have turned their attention to soft targets such as the crowded public areas of airports and other facilities,” said Payne, D-10th Dist.

And the FAA measure includes several programs for the technical center in Egg Harbor Township, which employs 3,500 people. There are millions of dollars in the bill to expand the facility and its research programs.

“It will allow critical research programs to continue uninterrupted while ensuring our FAA Technical Center has a leading role in developing, testing and deploying advanced aviation technologies in the 21st Century,” said Rep Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd Dist., the House aviation subcommittee chairman.

As for the Sandy measures, the first bill MacArthur introduced as a member of Congress would limit to three years the time FEMA could recoup overpayments to victims, except in cases of fraud or abuse. The House passed that bill last December.

The second provision would allow the president to permit disaster victims to receive both aid and loans from the federal government.

“The federal government should make it easier, not harder for those who have just gone through a natural disaster,” MacArthur said. “When homes and businesses are destroyed, the last thing families should have to worry about is whether taking an SBA loan will disqualify them for FEMA grants that become available later on.”

Congressional Republicans have been reticent to help those who suffered losses from Hurricane Sandy but not those from more recent storms in GOP-led states. The current House speaker, Paul Ryan, R-Wis., even voted against Sandy after the storm hit.

Congress last year voted to give special tax breaks to victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria while rebuffing efforts to do the same for those who suffered property damage under Sandy. Most House Democrats opposed the measure because it excluded Sandy victims from its benefits.

In addition, a majority of House Republicans voted to strip $900 million out of a spending bill to build a new Hudson River train tunnel to the existing tube could be taken out of service to repair the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. The effort failed.

Trump later threatened to shut down the government if any funds for the Gateway Tunnel project was included in the final bill, but lawmakers got around his veto threat.

He also dropped plans to eliminate $107 million in Sandy aid, removing the proposed cut from a list of budget reductions sent to Congress for approval.

Jonathan D. Salant may be reached at . Follow him on Twitter @JDSalant or on Facebook. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.

Murphy Pledges New Tax Credits, Other Programs for Housing, Communities

Colleen O’Dea | NJ Spotlight

Governor says his new economic plan will help rejuvenate rundown neighborhoods, give tax credits for affordable housing

A day after unveiling an ambitious economic development plan, Gov. Phil Murphy and members of his administration gave some details on several new programs that would provide tax credits to help revitalize communities and build much-needed housing.

Speaking in Atlantic City yesterday to several hundred attendees at the annual Governor’s Conference on Housing and Economic Development, Murphy stressed the importance of ensuring that actions to improve the state’s economy include building homes affordable to New Jerseyans.

“Economic development cannot be skewed to mean only that which benefits shareholders,” Murphy said. “We can have strong economic growth and safe, affordable housing options for families. We can have strong and diverse communities.”

Murphy’s remarks were part of a different tone at this year’s conference, his first as governor. Administration officials talked about a number of state programs and initiatives to help officials with economic development dilemmas. Sometimes the programs offer financial incentives and other times technical assistance. For many in the housing community, the fact that Murphy turned up at the conference to discuss his plans showed the importance he places on developing local economies.

“I know you hear from the governor every year at this event,” Murphy joked to murmurs and laughter, making a reference to former Gov. Chris Christie’s absence from prior conferences.

Murphy: ‘We must have bigger goals’

“We have a new mindset on what ‘economic development’ means,” he continued. “We’re not going to gauge our success simply by the number of new businesses we create or the amount of capital flowing into New Jersey … We must have bigger goals. A more diverse and inclusive economy, with hundreds of thousands more jobs at better wages, especially for women and minorities, and a significantly lower urban poverty rate.”Murphy went on to discuss four of the planks of his day-old economic plan, which by 2025 seeks to create 300,000 new jobs, many in the innovative technology sector, and use a $500 million state-led venture capital fund for investments. The plan seeks to overhaul New Jersey’s major economic-development tax-incentive programs to jump-start growth in communities statewide.

“We’re excited,” said Leslie Anderson, president and CEO of the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority during the opening session of the conference. “We’ve never seen anything like this.”

Three of these programs envision the use of state tax credits, although the administration has not provided any estimates of the costs. Officials said on Monday that the tax credits will be so targeted and carefully limited by caps that they will generate enough revenue growth to more than pay for the forgiven tax liabilities. All these programs would need legislative approval.

One of these is a revamped program to reclaim and redevelop brownfields, which are vacant commercial and industrial sites that either have or are suspected of having some sort of environmental contamination. The new program would include a “more timely” remediation and development tax credit, as well as a dedicated loan fund available through the state Economic Development Authority.

Tax credits for a range of investments

“Sites that were part of our economic past can be part of our future — where new and affordable housing can replace a barren lot, connecting a community rather than separating it,” Murphy said.

A second program called NJ Aspire would provide tax credits for investments in commercial, residential, and mixed-use development in cities, downtowns and suburban neighborhoods served by mass transit. The EDA’s Economic Redevelopment and Growth Program, or ERG, fulfills a similar purpose currently.

“NJ Aspire can help facilitate the conversion of surface parking lots, vacant and abandoned lots, and other underutilized properties into the cornerstones of inviting, thriving, and diverse communities where new residents will flock, and where the arts and culture, and small businesses, can flourish,” Murphy said.

The third tax credit would be available for historic preservation projects and be modeled on a federal program that Murphy said has provided a nearly 30-percent return on investment at the same time as it created jobs and gave older structures a new purpose.

“Let’s put returns like this to work for our state,” Murphy said.

Federal program for distressed neighborhoods

The fourth plank, and one on which the state is placing a lot of emphasis, would not involve significant state spending. New Jersey is hoping for big returns from the new federal Opportunity Zone program, which is meant to bring new private investment into distressed neighborhoods by giving investors preferential tax treatment for spending in those areas. New Jersey has designated 169 census tracts across the state as zones.

“It is into these communities — overlooked areas where significant numbers of residents live in persistent poverty — that we will aim to direct new private capital investment, to create jobs and restore economic vitality,” Murphy said.

The state has created a zone mapping tool and agencies are working to provide information to municipal officials and identify projects that are “ready to go” so that once final rules are in place they might take advantage of potential investments. Additionally, the EDA is working on a “digital marketplace” to make it easier to help businesses and entrepreneurs find zones for their investments. A conference session on the zones was so popular that there was even no room for standing inside.

Leaders of the key state agencies involved in economic development and housing discussed other projects in the works to help struggling communities and, in many cases, provide homes for those with low incomes. Among them:

  • Providing financial assistance to about 2,000 first-time homebuyers over the next two years;
  • Awarding as much as $30 million in tax credits a year over three years to build 1,500-2,000 low-income housing units, with priority given to communities with high-performing schools and opportunity zones;
  • Including healthcare components, such as a nurse and physical activities on site, in new senior-citizen housing construction to better help residents be able to live in their apartments longer;
  • Partnering with hospitals to help fund new housing developments of 60-70 units in distressed areas to provide homes for the homeless, low-income residents and hospital staff.

Murphy: Not going to let plan ‘sit on a shelf’

“We are starting on the road at the micro level to enact what the governor announced yesterday in a real way,” said Charles Richman, executive director of the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.

Murphy lauded the state’s efforts in economic development and housing and vowed to see the ideas in his plan to fruition.

“The plan we unveiled yesterday is not something we’re going to let sit on a shelf,” he said. “We’re going to put it to work for our communities and our state.”

As such, Murphy provided a new mission for the annual conference.

“This cannot be just an annual chance for us to get together to talk about the challenges facing our state that never seem to get fixed,” he said. “We must instead make this an annual check-in, to gauge our progress from the year before in tackling our challenges, and in moving our state forward as one.”

Save the date for the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness annual ecumenical memorial service on Friday, December 21st.

WHY: National Homeless Persons’ Remembrance Day
WHEN: Friday, December 21st
WHERE: Turning Point United Methodist Church – 15 South Broad Street, Trenton, NJ 08608
*TIME: 10:00 a.m.

All are welcome to attend and remember those who were lost this year.

* The time may be subject to change.

Former Chairman Clifford Goldman Passes Away

It is with great sadness that I inform you of the passing of our former chairman Clifford Goldman.

Cliff was a gifted individual of great character, intellect and compassion. He was able to bring his abundant talents together to passionately advocate on behalf of the homeless families and individuals of the Trenton/Mercer community, and guide and promote the development of the Alliance’s nationally recognized efforts to end homelessness.

His great personal warmth and spirit infused the Alliance and its community and governmental partners with the zeal to develop creative, yet pragmatic, solutions that focused on using permanent housing to end homelessness, and reconnect our most challenged citizens with our community,

He will be greatly missed by us all, but forever remembered for his many contributions as a true public servant.

Cliff’s family has chosen to direct memorial contributions in his memory to the Coalition of Peace Action or the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness.

Memorial contributions to the Mercer Alliance should be sent directly to:
Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness
1001 Spruce Street, Suite 205
Trenton, NJ 08638

Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness approves Anita D. Wemple to Board of Directors

The Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness unanimously approved the nomination of Anita D. Wemple, to its Board of Directors at their meeting on September 12, 2017.  Ms. Wemple has a Masters of Social Work from Rutgers University, and a BS in Human Resource Management from Rider University. She brings significant experience in non-profit and program development. During her tenure at Rutgers she worked to develop programs for at-risk youth, including homeless youth. Ms. Wemple also worked as a program coordinator and manager for The Center for Nonprofit Management and Governance at Rutgers, and AmeriCorps. Additionally, she was a training coordinator for the New Jersey Welfare Training Partnership that facilitated best practices training for State of NJ social workers. Ms. Wemple currently works as a manager of youth services at Isles.

“Ms. Wemple brings an important perspective to providing services to homeless and at risk youth that is both welcomed and needed as the Alliance and its government and community partners continue to develop and implement strategies and programs to end youth homelessness in 2017-18, in addition she will provide valuable insight and support to our on-going efforts to end homelessness for families and individuals”, said Frank A. Cirillo, Executive Director of the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness.

Founded in 2004, the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness is a public-private partnership of the county’s business, government and the non-profit sectors. Its mission is to develop and implement strategies and systems to end homelessness in Mercer County through permanent housing.  We can. We must. We will End Homelessness.

Call to Action: Addressing the Emergency Assistance Crisis

Dear Alliance Members, Community Partners, and Friends:

I want to share with you a disturbing update on the state of the social services safety net in our state and on one vital program in particular: Emergency Assistance (EA).  EA benefits are one of the most critical elements of our state’s homelessness prevention efforts by providing housing and shelter-related resources that provide safe haven and support for individuals and families who are homeless and helps individuals and families with the most limited income resources from sliding into the chaos and trauma of homelessness. EA prevents parents and their children and individuals from living on the streets or in abandoned buildings and can provide stable housing for up to 12 months so that the recipients can secure viable, permanent alternatives.  It is a vital tool for the individuals and families of many of the partner agencies of Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness – and it keeps many more from becoming reliant on long term public assistance in the first place.

In the last year and a half, the State has tightened EA eligibility, taken decision-making away from local county welfare agency workers, and appear to have issued nonsensical and contradictory reasons for EA denials — often claiming that individuals and families have “caused their own homelessness” or “failed to plan adequately” when often the individuals and families are victims of abuse or other unforeseeable tragedy that could not have been anticipated, let alone planned for. The state reports that in just the past year, 40% fewer individuals and families have been approved for emergency benefits. Take particular note of the word “approved.” No agency, no watchdog group, no one is reporting that poverty or any of its indicators have declined by that amount. The need for EA services as a vital tool to combat homelessness has not changed, so this 40% cut in approvals is simply denying help to desperate people. In fact, these nonsensical budget cuts are having the exact opposite effect of what they state is happening; adding to the lines at the door of, and calls to, agencies like HomeFront and the Rescue Mission of Trenton.

In his FY2017 budget, Governor Christie proposes further reductions in EA — $58 million dollars less than FY2015, before the EA cuts began.  These short-sighted cuts would prevent individuals and families in desperate need from accessing the assistance they require to maintain housing, would have a ripple effect on other safety net programs as individuals and families struggle to make ends meet.  We have already seen a devastating impact on the social services community in New Jersey, with budgets that were tight to begin with stretched to the breaking point.  Some sister programs around the state have begun to close, including some even here in Mercer County.

The Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness is participating in efforts led by the NJ Coalition to End Homelessness and the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey to restore the more inclusive interpretation of eligibility and urge the NJ State Legislature to revise the budget to restore funding for EA to FY2015 levels.  Over the last several decades, the State of New Jersey has successfully built the EA program to prevent residents from becoming homeless and to avoid the downward spiral that losing housing precipitates.  The proposed cuts to EA would mean more individuals and families on the streets and the agencies that have previously met their needs shuttering their doors.  The cost to society and the State to repair these broken lives and damaged safety net system would be significant; much more than funding EA at the proper level.  We invite you to join us in the fight to protect this important program and contact your State Legislators to urge them to support restoring $58 million in EA funding in this year’s State budget and preserve this vital program.

NJ State Legislature – Mercer County

District 14 – (Mercer and Middlesex)
Cranbury, East Windsor, Hamilton (Mercer), Hightstown, Jamesburg, Monroe (Middlesex), Plainsboro, Robbinsville, Spotswood

Senator  Linda R. Greenstein – 1249 South River Rd., Suite 105, Cranbury, NJ 08512
Phone: (609) 395-9911

Assemblyman Daniel R. Benson – 3691A Nottingham Way, Hamilton Square, NJ 08690
Phone: (609) 631-0198

Assemblyman Wayne P. DeAngelo – 4621A Nottingham Way, Hamilton, NJ 08690
Phone: (609) 631-7501

District 15 – (Hunterdon and Mercer)
East Amwell, Ewing, Hopewell Borough (Mercer), Hopewell Township (Mercer), Lambertville, Lawrence (Mercer), Pennington, Trenton, West Amwell, West Windsor

Senator Shirley K. Turner – 1230 Parkway Ave., Suite 103, Ewing Twp., NJ 08628
Phone: (609) 323-7239

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora – 144 West State St., Trenton, NJ 08608
Phone: (609) 571-9638

Assemblywoman Elizabeth Maher Muoio – 144 West State St., Trenton, NJ 08608
Phone: (609) 571-9638

District 16 – (Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset)
Branchburg, Delaware, Flemington, Hillsborough, Manville, Millstone (Somerset), Montgomery, Princeton, Raritan (Hunterdon), Readington, Rocky Hill, Somerville, South Brunswick, Stockton

Senator Christopher Bateman – 36 East Main St., Somerville, NJ 08876
Phone: (908) 526-3600

Assemblyman Jack M. Ciattarelli – 50 Division St., Suite 200, Somerville, NJ 08876
Phone: (908) 450-7064

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker – 23 Orchard Road, Suite 170, Skillman, NJ 08558
Phone: (609) 454-3147

Additional Legislators can be found by using this link: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/districts/municipalities.asp

Mercer 1st county in N.J. to end veterans homelessness by year end
By Cristina Rojas | For NJ.com

Mercer County has reached its goal to house every homeless veteran seeking help by the end of the year, becoming the latest community to answer the nationwide challenge issued by first lady Michelle Obama.

Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes announced the milestone Wednesday and said the county is the first in New Jersey to do so.

“The challenge was to put a fire under this thing and that’s exactly what we did,” he said.

Hughes and Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson officially accepted Obama’s challenge in November, but officials first began tackling the issue in January through a group effort with the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness, veteran groups and nonprofit homeless agencies.


Veterans Homelessness Ended in Trenton/Mercer in 2015

Trenton vows to end veterans homelessness by year end

Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson officially accepted first lady Michelle Obama’s Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness

 


There were 79 homeless veterans in the county when the initiative began.

The partners came up with a methodology to identify all veterans by name and created a shared list to make sure that no one fell through the cracks. Vets were then screened, prioritized and linked to the housing and supportive services they needed.

Of the 79 veterans, there are only two who are not in permanent housing. Housing is available to them, but they have declined for undisclosed reasons, county spokeswoman Julie Willmot said.

That means the county and city have achieved what is called “functional zero” and are committed to ensuring that homelessness among veterans is brief, rare and non-recurring.

“Somebody that is not homeless today might be homeless tomorrow,” Hughes said. “If they’re a veteran, we want to keep them as a high-priority target and make sure that we don’t just walk away from the essential and critical goal that the first lady set out.”

He said the county has long used a “housing first” strategy, which prioritizes getting people into permanent housing and then surrounding them with the services they need such as substance abuse or mental health counseling.

“We think that housing is the key element to really addressing this problem and making sure that people have a road to a better future,” Hughes said.

Housing resources include public housing authorities, senior housing, Section 8 Housing and other county and city resources.

Hughes said the Coordinated Entry and Assessment Services, the one-stop center that opened on Perry Street this April to focus on the chronically homeless, has been critical in helping the partners reach their goal.

“You have a group of people who work on homelessness issues, on housing issues, on making sure those wraparound services exist,” he said.

Cristina Rojas may be reached at crojas@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @CristinaRojasTT. Find The Times of Trenton on Facebook.

Trenton/Mercer Plan to End Veteran Homelessness
Mayors Challenge Logo

On November 10, 2015 at 10:30 a.m., please join Mayor Eric E. Jackson and Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes for the official “answer the call” of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness by 2015 and for the unveiling of the Trenton/Mercer Plan to End Homelessness. The event will be held at the new Coordinated Entry and Assessment Services (CEAS) Center located at 509 Perry Street, in Trenton.

The bold initiative outlined in the Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness is endorsed by the Secretary of HUD, leaders across the Veterans Administration (VA), the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USISCH) and the National League of Cities for mayors, county leaders and governors to commit to ending veteran homeliness by 2015.

The City of Trenton and the County of Mercer is proud to be among the 850 leaders around the county to answer the call and more importantly work with a team of dedicated veteran housing providers and community leaders to ensure now and in the future that no veteran will remain homeless in our community.

Please R.S.V.P. you attendance by emailing Nixsa Santiago at or by calling (609) 989-3339 by November 6th. See you on the 10th!