This aerial photo shows damage caused by Hurricane Sandy north of Seaside Heights, N.J., on Oct. 30.(Photo: Tim Larsen, Office of the (N.J.) Governor)
ASBURY PARK, N.J. -- Survivors of Huricane Sandy have a new catchphrase: The 2820.
number is the dollar amount - $2,820 - that the Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA) sent to many of the thousands of residents of
destroyed or damaged homes along the coast since the Oct. 29 storm. The
green government check comes in a white envelope with no explanation
and, perhaps more surprisingly, no government forms to fill out. Others
received direct deposit to their bank accounts.
Residents in Ocean
County netted more rental assistance money - $108 million total - than
people in any other county in the state.
FEMA said the $2,820
reflects the fair market value for two months of rental housing for a
two-bedroom dwelling in Monmouth and Ocean counties. Other rental
assistance amounts are $1,135 a month for a one-bedroom rental, $1,955
for three bedrooms and $2,299 for four bedrooms, according to Chris
McKniff, a FEMA spokesman.
must register with FEMA to get housing assistance. But the check has
surprised some people, including those who registered but never asked
for rental assistance of any kind.
One couple is Raymond and Mary
Saunderson. They evacuated their Surf City home along with thousands of
others along New Jersey's barrier islands before Sandy hit Oct. 29.
couple stayed with Mary's sister in Manchester for several days until
it was safe to return to Long Beach Island. The couple registered with
FEMA, but they found their home losses were minimal: a refrigerator and
some tools stored in their garage. They were sent a check for $2,820 in
rental assistance money.
Raymond Saunderson, 77, said the money should go to those who truly need it.
know, there are a lot of people who are without food, without lodging. I
don't think it's right for me to keep it," he said. He said he plans to
try to return the check to a local FEMA center.
In an e-mail,
McKniff said in most cases he refers people with questions about
returning unused or unneeded FEMA grants to Disaster Recovery Centers
FEMA's main job is to provide financial aid to disaster victims.
of Friday morning, FEMA had given $243 million to New Jerseyans for
housing assistance, which includes rental aid and essential home
repairs, to 47,000 eligible applicants in New Jersey, according to
McKniff. That comes out to an average of about $5,170 per applicant,
which is one household.
The $108 million in Ocean County - about
45% of all the state housing aid so far - went to 18,500 applicants,
according to McKniff.
Monmouth County ranked second, with $52 million distributed to 9,300 applicants, McKniff said.
from public reimbursements, FEMA provides money to individuals for two
things: home repair and rental assistance. The maximum payout is $31,900
for any single housing disaster event. The maximum is usually sent to
those whose houses were destroyed.
Most of the early money to individuals has come in the form of rental assistance, which can last 18 months, McKniff said.
aid grants are not taxable income and will not affect eligibility for
Social Security, Medicaid and other public assistance programs, he said.
Ken Serrano, Todd B. Bates, The Asbury Park (N.J.) Press