New Jersey says it's moving faster using federal aid to rebuild after Sandy

New Jersey officials say they have accelerated spending on housing programs from federal aid sent to the state to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy as they have made improvements to a big program that got off to an uncertain start last year.

In a progress report sent last week to the federal government, New Jersey's Department of Community Affairs said it disbursed $97 million to homeowners in the period from April to June. Overall, the homeowners had received $179 million in the program through June.

The Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Mitigation Program is the largest state initiative from the federal government in last year's initial $1.8 billion in recovery funds. It awards homeowners up to $150,000 for rebuilding costs not covered by insurance or other government programs.

Overall, the state reports that as of June 30, it had spent $592 million, or nearly one-third of the initial federal aid. That's up from about one-fourth of the aid spent through the end of March.

The main housing program was launched quickly, but problems soon arose. Homeowners have complained about paperwork being lost repeatedly and getting confusing messages from the state and its contractors. The contractor in charge of handling applications was fired earlier this year for what a state official called "performance issues."

In the report, New Jersey notes several efforts to improve the way the program works: Homeowners can now mail in documents rather than being required to submit them in person.

The state also ramped up its home site inspections, completing more than 1,600 from April to June — three times as many as in the previous quarter. The state says that is an important step toward finalizing building projects.

Another factor in the acceleration is that the state now allows half of project costs to be forwarded to contractors up front.

More than 11,000 homeowners were preliminarily found to have qualified for the grants. The state says that with a second broad federal grant — this one worth more than $1.4 billion — to be delivered this year, there will be enough money to pay for rebuilding for all of them.