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Emergency funds still trickling in after Sandy

Hurricane victims visit a FEMA recovery center after Sandy.
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency has given more than $250 million to victims of Hurricane Sandy who live in Queens, according to a spokesman.

Some $250,222,102 went to 27,075 Queens applicants, FEMA spokesman Jim Homstad said.

Those numbers are just a chunk of the more than $1 billion doled out to the 117,548 New Yorkers who applied for funds after the storm clobbered the East Coast last year on Oct. 29.

In just the United States, Sandy caused an estimated $65 billion in damage and resulted in 159 deaths, according to the National Climactic Data Center.

Storm victims had until April 13 to apply for funds through FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program.

The maximum IHP grant amount available for fiscal year 2013 was $31,900, Homstad said.

IHP is designed to provide money and services to disaster victims when property has been damaged or destroyed and losses are not covered by insurance, according to Homstad.

The goal of the program is to help meet essential needs and assist disaster victims in taking the first steps toward recovery, rather than return homes and other belongings to pre-disaster condition. Expenses IHP covers include housing assistance for home repair or temporary housing as well as other costs such as furnishing, transportation and medical expenses.

FEMA does not provide money to individuals whose losses are covered by their insurance.

Beyond the $31,900, one Breezy Point couple, Tom and Anke Long, said they also qualified for a $10,000 state grant.

The Longs said they were grateful they did not suffer the kind of damage other homeowners experienced. But their home did have several inches of flooding in the first floor that resulted in major — and expensive — damage.

“It was helpful,” Tom Long said about the funds he received from the state and FEMA. “But you don’t build a house with that.”

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said that while many individuals were helped by FEMA, many others — including businesses, nonprofits and religions institutions — were not.

And some individuals, he said, “fell through the cracks.”

He said part of the problem was that some inspectors were inconsistent in how they evaluated the damage done to a home.

“That was frustrating,” Addabbo said. “We would have liked to have seen the same group of inspectors visit the same area of homes and have everybody evaluated in the same way. There was no equity there.”

While the deadline has passed for storm victims to apply for funding, FEMA may continue to provide recovery assistance until next April, 18 months after the disaster was declared Oct. 30, 2012.

The two other main sources of assistance were insurance and disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration, Holmstad said.

In January, Congress approved distributing about $60 billion in emergency aid for victims of the storm. Those funds are now rolling in. For New Yorkers, they are divided into two tracks, Addabbo said. Individuals can apply to the New York City Build it Back program, which provides assistance to homeowners, renters and landlords within the five boroughs who were affected by the storm.

The deadline to apply for that program is Oct. 31.

Another resource for funds is still nonprofits, many of which organized major fund-raising campaigns in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Over the summer state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman released a report that questioned the way some nonprofits have distributed Sandy relief.

As of late spring — six months after the storm — more than 40 percent of funds raised for storm relief had still not been spent.

But according to those organizations, the funds they were holding were for long-term efforts, such as small business support or mold treatment.

The Red Cross was among the charities most widely criticized, but as of the end of September it had spent or committed $280 million to Sandy relief, according to the organization.

Federal funds will also be distributed to the state via large capital projects, Addabbo said.

Applicants who still have questions about receiving their funds should contact the FEMA helpline at 1-800-621-FEMA.

Reach reporter Bianca Fortis by email at bfortis@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 10:23 pm, October 24, 2013
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