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Nassau, Suffolk, Rockland get bulk of $1.71 billion Sandy funds

The Long Beach boardwalk remained heavily damaged 2

The Long Beach boardwalk remained heavily damaged 2 1/2 months after superstorm Sandy hit the Long Island area. (Jan. 15, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Nassau, Suffolk and Rockland counties are set to share most of $1.71 billion in federal community block grant funds for post-Sandy disaster recovery.

Under U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rules released Friday, an additional $1.77 billion in the block grants will be allotted to New York City's five boroughs.

After HUD's notice is published in the Federal Register -- expected in a few days -- state and city officials have 90 days to file their respective action plans with HUD for needs in areas hard-hit by the Oct. 29 storm. The federal agency then has up to 45 days to sign off on those plans.

A total of $5.4 billion in block grant money has been set aside for New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maryland.

Nassau, Suffolk and Rockland will get 80 percent of the $1.71 billion because they have been declared "most impacted" of the 17 New York counties included in HUD's notice. The other 20 percent may be disbursed to the remaining counties.

Local officials on Long Island have many questions and are eager for answers about how grant money -- which can be used by homeowners for buyouts, home elevations and repairs -- will be made available.

"It's got to get to these people a lot faster than that," Babylon Village Mayor Ralph Scordino said. "And what kind of paperwork do homeowners and businesses have to fill out? You're talking homeowners from Southampton all the way to the Nassau line. That's a lot of people."

Matthew Wing, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said the state is working "to ensure federal funds get to Long Islanders and all New Yorkers impacted by Sandy as quickly as possible."

Specific details regarding disbursement of the block grant money were unclear. Wing did not respond to a question about what local government or nonprofit agencies may be involved or how.

But on Thursday, federal officials from the New York Office of the Federal Hurricane Sandy Task Force released a flow chart showing that block grants will go to New York State and to New York City, which in turn will funnel the money to "subgrantees," identified as local governments and nonprofits.

Local business and governmental leaders at a Long Island Regional Planning Council meeting in Yaphank on Thursday were told the same by a HUD representative, but the nuts-and-bolts of the process -- and how individual homeowners may apply for the money -- was not explained in detail.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine Friday questioned whether block grants will be restricted by income level, saying, "That would limit the effectiveness of these funds."

The HUD notice states that federal law governing the money's distribution requires that 70 percent of a regular block grant's funds be used to support activities of low- to moderate-income people. However, the notice says that the requirement will be lowered to 50 percent for superstorm Sandy's victims, because the higher percentage "could be difficult to reach, and perhaps even impossible, for many grantees affected by Hurricane Sandy."

The HUD rules say New York State's action plan must address unmet housing, infrastructure and economic needs, and give specifics on how money will address long-term recovery and revitalization.

Under Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations, HUD block grants can be made available to property owners whose homes or businesses were substantially damaged by Sandy, so that repairs and storm mitigation work can be done. For example, the grants can help pay for elevating a home that is in a floodplain to comply with local building codes, or for the government purchase of a home.

A total of at least 2,543 structures found to be substantially damaged exist in towns and villages along the South Shore in Nassau and Suffolk counties, Long Beach and on Fire Island, local officials have told Newsday.

In the action plan, the state also must demonstrate that it has the ability to implement proper controls over the money, and that subgrantees -- local governments, for example -- can do the same. Among the financial rules is that the state is obligated to spend the money within two years.

The public has seven calendar days to comment on the state's action plan after it is published on an official website, the rules state.

With Olivia Winslow

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