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Weisenberg: Sandy-hit Long Beach needs money faster to recover

A demolished house on Tennessee Avenue in Long

A demolished house on Tennessee Avenue in Long Beach. (July 27, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Jeffrey Basinger

State Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg made an emotional plea Thursday on behalf of victims of superstorm Sandy in Long Beach, saying people still aren't getting the money they need fast enough to rebuild.

"If you sit in my office, I tell you you're going to cry," Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) told members of the Long Island Regional Planning Council. "They're just real people that don't have the resources to fix their homes. . . . It breaks your heart to see the pain and suffering of our people."

Weisenberg made an unannounced appearance before the council during its meeting at Long Beach's Allegria Hotel The council later co-hosted a symposium of national and European experts to discuss ways the region can rebuild.

Weisenberg recalled an 85-year-old man who has been living in a hotel since Sandy destroyed his home last October. That man now faces a loss of housing assistance money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and, as a result, potential homelessness, he said.

"So when we talk about government meeting the needs of our people, it isn't," he said.

Weisenberg told of insurance companies that delayed paying Sandy victims' claims, rejected payouts or gave payments far below what was needed.

Jim Homstad, a spokesman for FEMA's Joint Field Office in New York, said the agency has approved $999 million in assistance to people in New York's declared disaster areas, with almost all of it disbursed.

Dan Watson, press secretary for FEMA in Washington, D.C., said in an email that the agency's National Flood Insurance Program "partners" have closed more than 99 percent of 143,000 Sandy-related claims, paying out $7.8 billion.

"FEMA will not be satisfied until policyholders have received payments for all covered losses," he wrote. Watson said policyholders with concerns about their insurance companies can call FEMA at 800-427-4661.

Weisenberg also had concerns about the state's NY Rising plan to help homeowners, businesses and municipalities.

He said he could be wrong, but he was basing his remarks on "information that was given to me. They're going to have somebody come down and inspect to see what has to be done to your house. And then they're going to get a construction list of people who can do the work. And I'm saying, 'What, are you kidding me?' . . . How much time before the money is going to flow?"

Matthew Wing, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said the state is working "to deliver individual housing assistance despite federal delays." NY Rising is a separate program, he noted, with more than $240 million in funding going to the Island "for long-term reconstruction to protect vulnerable communities from future storms."

Brendan Gilfillan, a spokesman for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, said that agency has worked to "cut red tape and get aid to those who need it most quickly and effectively." HUD earlier this year announced a $1.7 billion block grant to New York for disaster recovery, which includes some funding for homeowners."We have more work to do and we will not stop working until families, small businesses and communities across the region are back on their feet and better prepared to withstand future storms," Gilfillan's statement said.

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