Confusion about FEMA aid evident during tele-town hall

By Karen Frantz

Residents living in neighborhoods ravaged by Hurricane Sandy appeared confused about many aspects of applying for help from the city and federal governments on a tele-town hall with government officials Friday.

“There are a lot of myths and there [is] misinformation out there in the community,” City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) told people on the call. “People are relying on what they’re hearing on social media or what they heard at the supermarket or what they heard from their neighbor, and that may not necessarily be completely accurate.”

Ulrich organized the tele-town hall, which had officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Small Business Administration and the city Rapid Repairs program on hand to answer residents’ questions. About 13,000 people were listening in on the call at some point, a representative for Ulrich said.

Some residents on the call appearedconfused about eligibility requirements for receiving FEMA aid or what type of fixes they could expect from Rapid Repairs.

One woman from the Rockaways said she had heard three different explanations of the Rapid Repairs program and was trying to get a clear answer of what she could expect.

An official with the program, Erica Keberle, responded that it would help make emergency repairs to enable people to live in their homes again but would not necessarily make all needed repairs.

“Rapid Repairs is focused on emergency, temporary repairs to help people get back into their homes until they can complete those more permanent repairs,” she said.

Other people called in, perhaps hoping the information they heard was incorrect only to be told otherwise.

A man with a second home in Breezy Point that sustained significant damage said he was told he could not receive aid to fix his house because only primary residences were covered.

“Is there anything that can be done for secondary residences?” he pleaded.

FEMA said it does not cover secondary residences and SBA said it only offers assistance if the secondary residence is a rental property.

Another woman called in saying she had been denied an SBA loan and FEMA aid to make repairs to her flooded basement. Officials on the call told her basements are not considered essential parts of the house and therefore are not covered by FEMA.

Many residents who said they were wrongly denied aid or loans were advised to visit one of the city’s disaster recovery centers to consult with a professional counselor, and callers were repeatedly reminded that before applying for FEMA aid they must first apply for an SBA loan to help fix their homes.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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