Members of the Latino Action Network (LAN) filed a formal complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today, stating that the Christie Administration broke federal laws by failing to provide equal access in English and Spanish to information regarding its Sandy recovery grant programs.
According to LAN, information provided on the English version of New Jersey’s Sandy recovery web site was omitted from the Spanish version of the web site, and left many Spanish speaking Sandy victims unable to take advantage of grant program benefits.
“The Christie Administration may not care about the real life impacts on Latinos struggling to rebuild after Sandy, but for those families the impacts are devastating,” vice president of the LAN Christian Estevez said.
President of LAN, Frank Argote-Freyre said the group originally filed a citizen’s complaint against the Administration earlier this month claiming that people using the Spanish web site were not informed of opportunities to appeal denials of funding. In addition, the original LAN complaint requested that the Administration add specific information regarding office locations and deadlines for grants that were provided on the English site, but omitted from the Spanish site.
The Administration recently updated the Spanish web site according to LAN’s request, but have yet to offer any resolution to victims who were misinformed by the web site errors. Argote-Freyre says fixing the web site is not enough.
“There’s no plan of action to, first of all, identify who may have been hurt by these errors that were on the original web site and how they are going to be addressed for the people who were affected,” Argote-Freyre said.
“I mean that’s the main issue here; there should be some sort of plan of action. They fixed the errors; that’s great, but what about the people who may have been impacted? Are they going to extend the deadlines for their appeals? I mean, that would be the responsible thing to do.”
A spokesman for the Christie Administration, Lisa Ryan, defended the Administration saying it engaged in a massive outreach effort to Latino neighborhoods which included outreach to several Latino organizations as well as canvassing with flyers and door hangers in Spanish.
“It is simply false to suggest that Spanish-speaking families haven’t been able to access our programs or get information they need," Ryan said.
"The Department of Community Affairs acted swiftly to address a minor problem in an otherwise highly successful outreach to the Hispanic community for Sandy rebuilding and resettlement funding."
According to Ryan the outreach helped more than 600 Latino families apply for the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) program. In addition, more than 900 Latino families applied for the the Resettlement Program.
Kevin Roberts, press secretary for the Christie campaign, called the complaint a political stunt, citing LAN’s endorsement of Christie’s opponent in the race for N.J. governor, Barbara Buono.
“With little more than a week until Election Day, this rehashed complaint is nothing more than a political stunt by a group attempting to advance the agenda of the candidate they have publicly endorsed,” Roberts said.
Argote-Freyre says he hopes today’s complaint will push the Administration to address the potential repercussions to misinformed Sandy victims.
“We’re hoping that, perhaps, federal government can get them to do the right thing,” he said.
“I imagine they will force them to develop an action plan to address the oversights of the past. Bottom line is there are folks who were impacted. This is about getting them to do the right thing here in making sure that, Spanish language speakers, primarily, and generally, the working poor are not cheated out of the process of recovery.”