Malloy seeks public comment on Storm Sandy disaster relief plan

Washington -– With the clock ticking toward a June 9 deadline, the Malloy administration on Wednesday unveiled its plan to spend $72 million in federal Storm Sandy recovery money and has asked for public comment.

The money involved is Connecticut’s allocation of $5.4 billion in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grants slated to go to Sandy-hit jurisdictions.

To receive the money, the Malloy administration is required by HUD to draft a plan for its use and submit it for seven days of public comment, which began on Wednesday.

The 180-page plan is on the Department of Economic and Community Development website, although the Department of Housing will be responsible for the distribution of most of the money. Comments from members of the public must be emailed to the Department of Housing at by midnight June 4.

Although the state can receive as much as $72 million from HUD, in its action plan the Malloy administration asked the federal government to release only $15 million immediately.

Most of that money would go to housing grants for homeowners and owners of multi-housing facilities whose Sandy-related damages were not completely paid by insurers or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Department of Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein said the state isn’t ready to spend the full $72 million. By asking for just a portion of the funds, the state can extend a two-year HUD deadline for spending the money, she said.

“We know that there are projects that will not be ready within the two-year time frame,” Klein said. “So we are going to draw down our funds because we don’t want to lose our funds.”

But homeowners and public officials have already been clamoring for far more than $72 million, which they say they need as soon as possible.

Stamford’s housing authority has been waiting for about $3 million to relocate a waterfront housing complex for the elderly and disabled. It is in the 100-year floodplain. “We would certainly spend all the money within two years,” director Vin Tufo said. The state is only asking for an initial $5 million for such projects for towns across Connecticut.

The action plan estimates there is $57 million in uninsured damages to the homes of Sandy victims and  $148 million in damages to apartment houses and other multi-housing facilities, mainly in New Haven and Fairfield counties.

A HUD official said sometimes states ask for partial funding  “based upon their capacity to execute these plans.. . often driven by data not yet available.”

There are few details on how homeowners could apply for the grants or what documentation is needed. The proposed plan also lacks two federal requirements -– the start and end dates of the program and the grant size limit.

Milford official Tom Ivers said he found the plan “pretty vague.”

He said his biggest concern is that the money won’t go to those who need it most because only those who are savvy enough will win grants.

“It’s going to be a single, one-size-fits-all kind of program. It’s going to turn the whole thing into a free-for-all,” Ivers said.

One-fifth of Milford’s housing stock was damaged by Sandy.

The state is also not asking for any initial money from HUD to repair the damage Sandy inflicted on drainage systems, roads, sewage treatment plants and recreational facilities. The plan estimates such structures still have $57 million in unmet needs.

According to the action plan, 80 percent of the funds would be spent in Fairfield and New Haven counties, although residents of Middlesex and New London counties and the Mashantucket Pequot Indian reservation would also be eligible to apply for help.

But that help isn’t likely to come anytime soon.

Federal guidelines on how Sandy-hit states could use their allocations of Community Block Grants were published March 5.  New York state, New York City and New Jersey quickly turned in proposals on how they would use their money.

New York State and New Jersey’s plans were approved by HUD in April and money for hurricane recovery is already flowing to those states. New York City’s plan was approved May 10.

Weeks later, Connecticut still has not submitted anything to HUD.  Neither have Rhode Island nor Maryland, states that suffered only minimal storm damage. After the required public comment period required, Connecticut must revise its action plan and submit a final proposal to HUD no later than June 9, the last day allowed under the federal regulations. 

HUD has another 45 days to approve the plan. Then it will take time for HUD to send money to the state.

Klein said Connecticut lagged behind New York and New Jersey because it is required to adopt a different process that included approval by the legislature of the basic outlines of the plan.

The Malloy administration also released a proposal on Wednesday on how it would spend $10.5 million in grant money from the Department of Health and Human Services to provide counseling help, protective services and other mental health-related aid to Sandy victims.