For another six months, New York will help pay mortgages for about 205 people still trying to rebuild their homes after destructive storms, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Saturday.
Instead of the aid ending on Jan. 1, Cuomo in a statement said the funding would last until June, costing the state $3.9 million.
Advocates welcomed the extension of the program, called Interim Mortgage Assistance, while wishing Cuomo had given them more than a few days' notice. The extension means no payments will be interrupted.
Homeowners displaced by superstorm Sandy in 2012 or Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee can receive as much as $3,000 a month, capped at $108,000, through the program. About 1,900 New Yorkers have been paid $54.2 million, Cuomo said.
People are eligible if they already have applied and are especially vulnerable, Cuomo said, such as seniors, the disabled, victims of contractor fraud, and people required to raise their dwellings or whose income is low to moderate.
At the state's request, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had extended the aid for 16 months but ended it in December 2017. The Governor's Office of Storm Recovery kept the program going, offering as much as 20 months of payments through 2018.
"With this additional six-month extension, we will continue to help vulnerable New Yorkers build back stronger and more resilient than before," Cuomo said.
Cuomo said this will be the last extension. Final home inspections also must be scheduled by June.
The only homeowners who might qualify for the full 20 months of mortgage assistance after the June deadline are those defrauded by contractors, Cuomo said.
In addition to contractor fraud, problems that have kept storm victims from meeting required rebuilding deadlines, advocates say, are too much red tape, personnel turnover at the Storm Recovery office, and long delays in obtaining building permits.
"We have worked to move and put forward the fastest storm recovery program in the nation's history," said a Cuomo administration official.
Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who praised Cuomo for the extension, said laws on contractor fraud must be stiffened as it has been so common.
"It's much more widespread than you would think," he said, explaining this made it harder for people to meet deadlines imposed by various disaster aid programs.
"When a contractor walks off a job and does not come back, so people miss deadlines, it turns someone's life upside down," he said.
Suing contractors can be both lengthy and costly, and prosecutors, Kaminisky said, say current laws are too lax.
"The laws are not where they should be in terms of the difference between a civil consumer case and a criminal case," he said.
The Governor's Office of Storm Recovery created a hardship program for homeowners victimized by contractors that has led to restitution.
The state agency's website will have extension details, Cuomo said. Individuals also can contact their case managers or call 844-9NY-RISING (844-969-7474).