LIers displaced by Sandy protest slow release of funds

(L-R) Sue Hecht and Wendy Wagner join with

(L-R) Sue Hecht and Wendy Wagner join with other Sandy victims fighting FEMA in front of the NY Rising building in Freeport. (Dec 23, 2013) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

More than 50 Long Islanders displaced by superstorm Sandy protested in front of the Freeport office of the state's storm recovery agency Monday, saying the agency isn't moving fast enough to help restore their homes.

Holding umbrellas and hand-lettered signs on a rainy afternoon, the demonstrators in front of NY Rising drew honks from passing cars, which the protesters -- many accompanied by children, and two using wheelchairs -- greeted with whistles and cheers.

The protest was organized by Michele Mittleman, through a 745-member Facebook group she runs for people whose homes were damaged by the Oct. 29, 2012, storm.


PHOTOS: LI damage | Then and now | Aerial views
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Mittleman said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's special adviser for Long Island storm recovery, Jon Kaiman, "is working really hard on our behalf, but the governor needs to step it up and get those funds released, get the homeless people back home."

A spokeswoman for NY Rising, Barbara Brancaccio, said the agency has begun sending out more than $88 million to reimburse some 2,500 New York homeowners for repair costs.

Roughly 10,000 Long Islanders had applied to NY Rising by early October, and about 4,400 have received award letters, according to NY Rising.

Among the demonstrators Monday was Wendy Wagner, 69, who sat in a wheelchair and was accompanied by her service dog, Pollyanna. She held a sign that read, "I want a home for Christmas."

Wagner said her handicapped-accessible home in Seaford was wrecked by Sandy. She has been living in a Massapequa hotel, but the rental assistance she had been receiving from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and then from a charity has run out, and now her own funds will dry up within days, she said.

"The reason I'm out here is the systems are not working, and the systems especially are not working for disabled people," said Wagner, who has a spinal cord injury and also has trouble breathing.

Her home is uninhabitable, and she cannot afford to elevate and repair it, she said. She would consider selling it to the state, but NY Rising workers have not told her how much the state would pay to buy it, and she doubts it would be enough for her to buy a handicapped-accessible home elsewhere.

"It's like a nightmare," she said, "and it just keeps getting worse."

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