Joe Mangino believes he followed all the rules while applying for and accepting grants related to rebuilding his home following Superstorm Sandy.

But, despite getting back into his home nearly 7 years ago, the Stafford resident can't move on.

He and several hundred other Sandy victims remain in limbo with so-called clawbacks, in which they're being forced by the government to repay all or some of the grant money they had received to recover from the storm.

"While I am home, I am not whole," Mangino told New Jersey legislators. "I feel like we're being held hostage."

The overpaid funds were distributed in error, or ended up being a duplication of funds when taking into account other financial avenues available to storm-impacted residents. Either way, the residents who received them are on the hook, at least for now.

On May 9, the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee advanced legislation that would establish a simpler payback process for residents, and potentially scrap these debts altogether for some homeowners.

"People have been living in a nightmare since Superstorm Sandy and just not have been able to see themselves clear from the bureaucracy," said Sen. Christopher Connors, R-Ocean, a sponsor of the measure.

Democratic Sen. Troy Singleton is also a prime sponsor.

Specifically, the bill creates more transparency within the clawback process, and gives residents the opportunity to set up a five-year payment plan. In cases involving low- or moderate-income homeowners, based on definitions by the U.S. government, one's debt amount could be reduced or eliminated.

An Assembly version of the legislation is awaiting action by the Oversight, Reform and Federal Relations Committee.

New Jersey and federal lawmakers have some time to act on this issue, if they choose to do so. A spending bill signed by President Joe Biden in March 2022 included a two-year delay for repaying disaster funds, meaning residents won't have to start repayment until at least 2025.

Gov. Phil Murphy's administration announced a freeze on state clawback attempts in 2018.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at

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