Editorial: Homecoming Coming?

In some ways, the questions were answered.

People at a town hall meeting at St. Helen’s in Howard Beach on Sunday got helpful information. They heard what numbers to call after their insurance companies dropped them. They learned that they may not have to elevate their homes even if they’re drawn into a flood-prone zone. There was information about accessing city funds to help them rebuild.

But there was, really, no way to answer the questions many still had after the meeting that was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and state Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder.

Questions like – why, after my life turned upside down – after I lost my house, my only video of my father, my photos of my grandparents on their wedding day, my sense of what life was going to be before I had to dip into retirement savings and children’s college funds to stay afloat – do I have to constantly beg for help from those – FEMA and flood insurance companies, for example – who seem to always be turning the other way?

Why, eight months after Hurricane Sandy, am I still not in my home? Why are my neighbors being attacked by thieves stealing copper pipes from vacant houses? Why, after taking help from the federal Small Business Administration (SBA), am I being told that I cannot receive funds from the city’s Build It Back program that would allow me to return home?

When does life start to get easier? Or, at the very least, normal again?

Jeffries and Goldfeder – and even representatives from the state Department of Financial Services and FEMA – did their best to help the residents who crowded Father Dooley Hall for the event. We presume they genuinely wanted to help – and they did.

But, after eight months, people are weary. And wary. And, like one resident pointed out, sometimes it seems like when you ask for help, or you take help, then you’re penalized down the road – such as those who accepted SBA loans after the storm.

Those who did are now not permitted to be a part of the city’s Build It Back program – which has access to $648 million in federal funding to help hurricane victims rebuild their homes.

Jeffries said he was working with the federal Housing and Urban Development to change this – and we certainly hope that happens.

Everything was up in the air after Sandy, and nobody felt like they understood how to best go about rebuilding their homes. And now, when they accepted the financial help that made sense for them to take, they’re getting punished? Now, because they accepted the loans that they were told were a good idea by government officials, they still may have to do what they were trying to avoid in the first place – take funds meant for the retirement that is beginning to seem like it will never happen, or for children headed to colleges that seem to have a pricetag that increases exponentially from one year to the next?

Then there are the insurance companies.

Like Goldfeder said, after paying an arm and a leg for year after year for flood insurance, the companies seem to have had no problem dropping their customers when they most need them. One woman at the town hall said a company dropped her 90-year-old grandmother.

Goldfeder noted that the state legislature has addressed this, passing a bill that would help ensure residents get the coverage they need – that, for example, a company wouldn’t be able to not pay for flood damages if there was another event that coincided with the flooding – say, for example, high winds – which is exactly what happened to some people after Sandy.

And U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand this week asked FEMA to review the rules that resulted in insurance coverage denials for some hurricane victims – a request that comes at a time when the National Flood Insurance Program is denying claims to thousands of homeowners facing damaged foundations.

This is all good. And, hopefully, when the next storm hits, it will seem like there are government agencies and insurance companies out there that actually care.

That remember the person they’re talking to, the person they’re telling they can’t cover the damage sustained to the first-floor appliances that sat in four feet of water because there are other appliances on the home’s second floor, is someone who is rebuilding their life from scratch. Who has to wake up each day and say: Today, how will I move a little closer to getting back home?


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