On Friday, President Barack Obama sent two cabinet members to the Jersey Shore to assure residents of storm-damaged areas the federal government will help them for as long as necessary.
Their visit came as a state senator proposed that any shore town that accepts government rebuilding aid provide free public access to beaches and restrooms.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan spoke at a Federal Emergency Management Agency facility in Middletown along with the state's two U.S. Senators, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez.
Donovan acknowledged it may take several years for some New Jersey residents to rebuild homes wrecked last month by Superstorm Sandy, which killed more than 100 people in 10 states but hit New York and New Jersey the hardest. He said the president wants to deliver storm aid quickly and efficiently.
"We have families that are going to be out for a long rebuilding process," he said. "Some families, it will take years. We want to make sure they have a decent place to stay and we get them certainty in terms of their options."
Housing for those displaced by the storm is a major component of the recovery.
State Sen. Michael Doherty, who represents Warren, Hunterdon and Somerset counties, unveiled the proposal mandating free beach access. He said it will ensure that all taxpayers enjoy the fruits of public funds spent to restore shore communities damaged by the superstorm, formed when Hurricane Sandy merged with two other weather systems on Oct. 29.
"Public dollars must be spent for the maximum benefit of all citizens," he said. "I do not dispute that our shoreline must be rebuilt or that the communities impacted need assistance, but the state and federal funds that will be used to rebuild come from everyone, not just those who live or own property at the shore."
Doherty said beach fees are an unfair barrier that keeps some citizens from enjoying a resource they pay to maintain. He's drafting a bill that would end beach badge fees at towns that get rebuilding aid.
"The Jersey Shore is a state treasure and an important economic engine, but it is a resource that belongs to all of us and is maintained by the taxes that all of us pay," he said.
Napolitano, who visited New Jersey shortly after the storm, said $186 million has been approved for individual storm assistance.
"We are here for the survivors of this storm, and we are going to be here so they get the assistance they need," insisted Napolitano, who said FEMA has almost 3,000 workers deployed across the state.
Obama declared a major disaster for New Jersey on Oct. 30, qualifying people in all 21 counties for federal assistance related to the storm.
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