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More than 800 Sandy victims still waiting for grant money to rebuild homes

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Seven years after Superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey, more than 800 grant recipients still have not completed construction and returned home. Supplemental funding announced last year by Gov. Phil Murphy could make a huge difference, but it has yet to be distributed.

Robin Buck of Long Branch is one of the hundreds of Sandy grant recipients inching, slowly and painfully, toward the finish line. His home was badly damaged in the storm. His state-approved contractor then caused irreversible foundation damage, and Buck was left with a vacant lot and not enough money to rebuild.

“It’s a lot of anxiety,” Buck says. “It’s a lot of mixed emotions and mixed feelings. You just kind of swallow it and pray, I guess.”

For six years, Buck, his wife and two children have lived wherever they could, including spending one winter in an unheated pop-up camper. But now, they may finally be weeks or months away from returning home. With the help of a nonprofit group, their home is nearing completion. Final inspections are four weeks out.

RELATED: KIYC: Some Sandy victims still have not ‘crossed the finish line’ to get home 

But when the final bill comes due, Buck isn’t sure he’ll be able to afford it. He’d been counting on supplemental funding announced by the governor a year ago to bridge the gap, but the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs has just begun notifying applicants whether they are eligible for the funding. A spokesperson says the department hopes to award funds “in time for the spring building season.”

That’s not soon enough for some Sandy advocates, who lobbied hard for the supplemental funding.

“I am surprised that people don’t know what they’re going to get and how that’s going to impact their ability to get home,” says Amanda Devecka-Rinear, executive director of the New Jersey Organizing Project. “It’s been almost a year, and I think people would like to know how much extra funding they’ll be able to get to get over the hump and make it home.”

Of the 7,500 families in the Sandy grant program, about 11% have still not returned home, according to state figures.

The supplemental funds would mark the first time New Jersey will allow grant recipients to collect more than $150,000 in total assistance. Advocates have long contended that funding limit, which New Jersey adopted but New York did not, is one of the reasons so many New Jersey families are still not back home.

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