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Sandy recovery program granted $2.1M in extension funding

A member of the charity group Samaritan's Purse

A member of the charity group Samaritan's Purse helps homeowners on Michigan Street in Long Beach strip their houses, destroyed by superstorm Sandy, Nov. 18, 2012. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is granting New York State $2.1 million to extend a program that helps superstorm Sandy victims navigate the complex world of recovery, from finding mental health services to removing mold and appealing insurance decisions.

The $38.5 million disaster case management program was launched in April 2013 and extended again in September 2014 through October 2015. While the program was continued, the funding level remained the same, and was expected to run out at the end of this month.

That prompted the state to seek an additional $5.5 million.

Local social services groups worried that shuttering the program, overseen by the Archdiocese of New York and its Catholic Charities and administered by the state, would affect thousands and "create a second wave of disaster."

Catholic Charities of Rockville Centre, the largest disaster case management provider on Long Island, has about 800 open cases and 23 dedicated caseworkers.

"We've been working with these individuals for almost two years," Kristy D'Errico, program director of the disaster case management program for Catholic Charities, said Monday. "To be able to continue to do that will definitely be welcome and it's needed."

Three other groups also provide services on Long Island and the grant is administered through the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

The state requested $5.5 million in January but FEMA regional spokesman Don Caetano said, based on estimated expenses provided, $2.1 million should be suitable to fund the program through the end of October.

In a letter sent Monday to Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, FEMA regional administrator Jerome Hatfield said no time extensions would be granted and any expenses after Oct. 30 would not be paid.

He also pushed the division to work with recovery programs, because the state's request for additional funding noted it had extra need. This was because 40 percent of the open disaster cases were unresolved due to delays in the New York City Build it Back and the state's NY Rising program. "Since these are state and city programs, [the emergency services division] is in the best position to take action to address the delays . . ." Hatfield wrote.

Kristin Devoe, director of public information for the division, said the agency worked closely with Catholic Charities to create detailed financial projections, including unbilled expenses. The agency, she said, "will review and respond to FEMA's justification for the reduction of the original requested funding and will continue to advocate for additional funding under this program."

New calls -- as many as 25 per week -- are still coming in to caseworkers, said Gwen O'Shea, president and CEO of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island.

"It's unbelievable the number of individuals who have generally been paralyzed by the storm and are just now coming forward," she said.

The program needs adequate funding, she said. "Now we're talking about less than half the requested amount so we're probably talking about downsizing the case managers by half."

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said an estimated 3,000 cases are open in New York and he pressed Hatfield to provide funding to help families still in need and if more money is needed, he will appeal to the agency.

"You need some help and guidance," he said in a phone interview. "This counseling is just essential."

Elizabeth Treston, a Long Beach resident who is president of the Long Beach Community Organizations Active in Disasters, said her caseworker has been essential. " . . . [They help] you realize that somewhere there is a light in the tunnel," she said. "It may take a year or two, but you'll get there. They're our flashlights."

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