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Constitutional Litigation Clinic Calls for More Public Input Into Sandy Relief Plans and Equitable Allocation of Resources

March 20, 2013 – 

The Rutgers School of Law–Newark Constitutional Litigation Clinic and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) submitted a letter to the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) yesterday, asking it to be more transparent and to include opportunities for public input in its plans to disburse federal funds for Hurricane Sandy relief.

They also called for a thorough assessment of the special needs of low and moderate income households and communities of color created by Sandy, as well as the effect of planning decisions on those communities, as required by the regulations governing disbursement of federal disaster relief funds.

The DCA released a draft of its plan to the public on March 13, but only gave the public seven days to review or submit comments on the plan. But the state did not schedule any public hearings on the plan, nor does it have a strategy to include public input in the future.

“This plan will have a long-lasting impact on New Jersey residents across the state, and across economic, racial and ethnic lines,” said Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU-NJ. “The public has a vested interest in reviewing the plan thoroughly and providing its input on decisions that will affect them. Any plan must consider the disproportionate hardship imposed upon economically disadvantaged communities. We all share collective responsibility for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of communities affected by natural disasters.”

Vice Dean Ronald K. Chen of the Constitutional Litigation Clinic said he recognizes that time is critical in making sure that relief is distributed to help those in need.

“On balance, asking for additional time for the public to review the plan would not seriously impair the interest to help New Jersey residents and provide relief,” said Chen. “This is an enormous undertaking and we all share the goal of developing a plan that is sustainable and boosts the long-term viability of the state.

The ACLU-NJ and Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC), which also submitted a letter to the state, are also concerned that a disproportionate amount of the federal funds will go to homeowners, rather than renters. This includes relief funds to relocate renters and for any property they lost during the storm.