29 October 2013

Hurricane Sandy – One Year Later

(God bless my sister, Jeannie, for once again stepping in at the last minute to write the blog when I got totally overwhelmed and knew I'd barely make it home before midnight to post. She came up with this post and from it I learned two things I did not know: that Sandy affected 24 states and that my sister worked for the company that  processed federal payments for Katrina. You think you know someone... Melinda)
It’s hard to believe that Hurricane Sandy hit a year ago today. While most of the focus, understandably, was on how hard hit the New York/New Jersey area was, Sandy packed quite a formidable wallop.  It affected 24 states, including the entire eastern seaboard and as far west as Michigan and Wisconsin. 
Not only did so many people lose their homes and livelihoods, but much of the struggle had just begun. As many of us know, bureaucracy is another storm unto itself, and, apparently, dealing with insurance companies, permits, and emergency grants and loans was no different. My heart ached for one survivor of the fires that also broke out during the storm (and which, ironically, no one could get to because of the flooding) who said, "I was here as the fire progressed. And to be quite honest, the experience of dealing with trying to get permits and the insurance was ten times worse than any of that.” Many of the survivors are still waiting for their insurance checks. Money is still the major barrier to getting home and to rebuilding the businesses that hire people. While FEMA has provided more than $1.4 billion in assistance to more than 182,000 disaster survivors in five states, states have been slower to supply key $150,000 to $300,000 federal grants to individual homeowners facing funding shortages as they rebuild.  And let us not forget that Congress also contributed to the delay by waiting three months to approve the $60 billion Sandy aid program.
Having worked for a company that led the process to get federal payments to Katrina survivors, and which worked very hard to be as responsive to the survivors as possible, I know it is difficult to walk that fine line of meeting their needs while still being accountable for every penny and on guard for rampant fraud. In fact, many of the rules are in place largely in response to concerns arising from abuse and fraud in the Hurricane Katrina recovery. But there has to be a better way so that survivors of catastrophes are not victimized twice. Apparently a lot was learned from Katrina re: how to prepare for the storm for evacuations and shelters, but I’m not sure that much has been learned that improves the processing of legitimate payments to the survivors in a fairly easy and quick way.
AmeriCares  has provided more than $6.5 million in aid benefiting more than 450,000 people, including medicines, mobile medical units, and relief supplies; funding to organizations to care for the poor and uninsured patients in hard-hit areas; and grants for emergency warmth and disaster cleanup, mental health counseling for storm-affected children, and help for elderly and disabled survivors stranded in high-rise buildings.

-Jeannie Newman

Oct. 29:  AmeriCares

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