VENTNOR — The New Jersey Organizing Project will hold a meeting Saturday, Feb 24, at the Ventnor branch of the Atlantic County Library to help families still suffering from Hurricane Sandy.

"Those who have given up hope they will ever get back into their homes should come,” Ventnor resident Fran Baronowitz, 74, said in a telephone interview Feb. 14.

Baronowitz said she helped the organization plan its first meeting in Ventnor last year, and since then, the organization has helped many people.

The organization was formed in 2014 with nine people, and now there are 3,000 people helping Hurricane Sandy victims, she said.

The grassroots organization advocates for individuals and communities. It was instrumental in developing a rental assistance program and helped get two laws passed: one that addressed transparency in Sandy recovery spending and another providing mortgage relief and foreclosure prevention for families trying to get back into their homes.

The organization also advocates for the continuance of Medicaid and Medicare for Sandy victims. The group’s goal this year is to expand foreclosure protection and address contractor fraud.

Although the organization was successful in convincing the state Assembly and Senate to pass legislation to help families facing “clawbacks,” Gov. Chris Christie never signed it into law, Baronowitz said.

Clawback is the taking back of money already disbursed, she said. Two years after Baronowitz received money from the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program to raise her house in Ventnor Heights a half-block from the bay, she got a letter stating that she had duplicated expenses and would have to pay back more than $35,000.

“I didn’t duplicate anything, and I don’t have that money. I live on a small pension and Social Security. That’s the money I need to live off of,” she said.

A New Jersey Organizing Project advocate succeeded in getting the amount reduced to $19,000, but Baronowitz never signed any documentation stating she would pay it back.

“I don’t want to be obligated to pay it,” she said.

Her case is still pending, but no one has contacted her lately, she said.

“We went to Trenton and talked to a senator and an assemblyman, and Gov. Phil Murphy knows about it,” she said. “Hopefully he will get the law passed before I have to pay.”

Baronowitz said the organization helped an 80-year-old neighbor who was duped by a contractor. City officials and the Police Department got a judge to certify the man’s RREM documention, and now he can get his house raised, she said.

“They talk to people individually about their particular problems and do everything they can to help,” she said. “They are hoping they will get new people to help at this meeting on Saturday.”

The 2018 Action Kick-off meeting will address economic security and dignity, full and fair Sandy recovery, and plans to make New Jersey storm-ready through the Shore Keeper program, according to literature.

The meeting will be held 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, on the second floor of the library, 6500 Atlantic Ave.

Meetings will also be held Sunday in Manahawkin and Middletown, and March 3 in Toms River. There will also be a meeting 2-4 p.m. Saturday, March 3, at the Mays Landing branch of the Atlantic County Library, 40 Farragut Ave.

For information call Priscilla at 609-312-3899, email Priscilla@newjerseyop.org, or see newjerseyop.org.

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nanette.galloway@shorenewstoday.com 

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