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Long Island

Cuomo defends pace of LI Sandy relief

New York State Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino,

New York State Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, left, listens to Democratic incumbent Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo during a debate Oct. 22, 2014, in Buffalo. Photo Credit: AP / Gary Wiepert

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Wednesday defended the pace of aid to Long Island by a state Sandy-recovery agency that homeowners and businesses have criticized for delays in processing claims and providing money to demolish, repair or rebuild storm-damaged properties.

Speaking after a Sandy-anniversary event on Staten Island, Cuomo said the agency, New York Rising, is protecting taxpayer funds by ensuring that the money goes only to those who deserve it.

Homeowners have complained about bureaucratic red tape and bungling they say have prevented them from rebuilding after the storm, which struck two years ago Wednesday.

As of the past weekend, about 2,000 of the nearly 9,000 households on Long Island that received at least one check from NY Rising have completed repairs. Of the more than 5,000 of the approximately 15,000 applicants who haven't received repair checks, some were told to apply to other programs to elevate their homes or have the state buy them, and others have been told they do not qualify for funds but may appeal.

"These regulations have a point," Cuomo said. "You know, homeowners are getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases. This is a lot of money. And this is taxpayers' money, and the taxpayers have to be protected, too. And you don't want people who don't qualify, don't deserve the money to be getting the money."

NY Rising, which is responsible for administering about $4.4 billion in federal funds for storm-related recovery, is averaging 30 closings for house acquisitions each month on Long Island, officials have said.

Cuomo insisted that "we're down to contested cases" on Long Island. "What we're left with on Long Island are a number of peculiar situations that don't fit the federal regulations," he said.

Told of Cuomo's remarks, Bellmore resident Scott Cohen, whose family was left homeless for months after Sandy, said he is still contesting his case with the state despite what he says were repeated and duplicative submissions. Cohen dismissed Cuomo's remarks.

"That's a perfect political comment," said Cohen, an attorney. "It's words with no substance. And I don't believe he knows anything that's going on."

NY Rising spokeswoman Barbara Brancaccio said Cohen has already received all the repair money he is entitled to under the law.

Also Wednesday, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino used Freeport's Nautical Mile as a backdrop as he criticized Cuomo's handling of Sandy recovery.

Astorino addressed about 20 supporters, many of whom said they still were waiting for state and federal aid to repair their homes.

"Two years later, to have people still not in their homes, businesses still not getting the money, and homes and people not getting the money they need from the New York Rising program that they were promised and are entitled to is outrageous," said Astorino, the Westchester County executive. "For the governor to take a victory lap saying all things are great in the state . . . is irresponsible."

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