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Queens Congresswoman town hall walks New Yorkers through FEMA assistance application process

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hosted a virtual town hall on Sept. 14. (Screenshot via YouTube)

During a virtual town hall hosted by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) representative walked individuals through the application process for disaster relief. 

The remnants of Hurricane Ida tore through the Northeast, killing 13 people in New York City, 11 of which were people living in Queens basement homes. Bryon Boka, an individual assistance program specialist at FEMA, attended the town hall to speak about rental assistance and answer any questions from the congresswoman’s constituents.

Boka mainly noted that the fastest way for survivors of the storm to receive aid, which is through the FEMA website. Boka also reassured that survivors of the tropical storm who are not U.S. citizens may also apply for assistance without fear of repercussions. However, a recent report by The City found that many undocumented community members have not been able to receive the federal aid.

FEMA has stated that non-citizens will not be jeopardized by requesting assistance. A parent or guardian who isn’t eligible may register for assistance on behalf of a child under 18 who is a citizen, non-citizen national or qualified alien. In that situation, Boka said people should apply over the phone.

Boka responded to a question from a concerned citizen in Jackson Heights who lives in a rented basement that does not meet city standards. The resident said that many people in situations similar to his are scared that if they apply for FEMA assistance, they will be caught and penalized. 

“As far as FEMA is concerned, go ahead and apply,” Boka said. “We are not part of the zoning for the city so that really doesn’t play a role in the assistance that we provide. I understand that naturally, people are going to be apprehensive due to the status of their living arrangements, but that’s not what FEMA’s a part of. We’re here to provide disaster assistance.”

FEMA offers housing assistance to cover rental assistance and relocation expenses while repairs are being made to your home. If there’s a need for continued assistance, FEMA asks people to provide evidence that you experienced a loss and you may be eligible for continued assistance for a period of 18 months. 

FEMA also provides coverage for repairs and replacements. An inspector will come out to your location or set up a virtual meeting. Again, people are encouraged to keep records of everything lost, including receipts, pictures or any other documentation so inspectors can validate the claim. 

Lodging expense reimbursement is also covered through FEMA. Funds will cover out-of-pocket expenses for people typically for the first seven to 14 days of their displacement. FEMA will also assist people who claim medical, dental, vehicle or any other personal property losses. 

Once you apply for FEMA assistance, the organization will reach out either by U.S. mail or electronically. An inspector will contact you to schedule an appointment; all inspections will be conducted without entering your residence. Inspectors will maintain social distance and visually assess the residence’s exterior if they come in person, or they may verbally confirm the interior damage over the phone. 

Should people receive a notification that says they are not eligible for assistance, Boka encouraged people not to throw that away when in most cases, FEMA requires more documentation to validate the damage. 

FEMA has also translated documents outlining what help is available to them into 27 different languages. In addition, survivors can apply for relief through the FEMA mobile app or by calling 1-800-621-3362. Boka also encouraged people to visit FEMA’s Queens recovery center for assistance. 

Other Queens representatives, like New York Congresswoman Grace Meng, applauded FEMA’s efforts for swiftly opening the recovery center in her district at Queens College in Flushing.  

“So many of my constituents have suffered from devastating losses, and this recovery center will be a vital resource to ensuring that they get the help they need and deserve,” Meng said.

“I encourage those who have been impacted to take advantage of the assistance that the staff at this facility have to offer. Thank you to FEMA for opening this center and for working to assist Queens residents who have been devastated by the storm.”

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