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United Way's flood fund raised $206K in New York

Monday, September 3, 2012
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— Though it waned in the months following last year’s disasters, generosity directed towards a statewide flood relief program provided more than $200,000 to victims.

The United Way of New York State recently issued a final report on the Hurricane Irene Recovery Fund established Sept. 1, 2011, at the request of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The agency developed an application process to distribute money for home repairs, housing assistance, food, debris removal, furnaces and other unmet needs to 155 households and individuals.

The fund ran out of money before all those who asked for help could get some: by the time the final grant was issued, the United Way saw a total of $206,642 in donations compared with $221,413 in requests for help.

Despite relief efforts that began in the immediate aftermath of the storms, United Way of New York State president Susan K. Hager said the disasters left many affected in a difficult position because money contributed in the early days was gone by the time the needs for long-term recovery were even quantified.

Long-term recovery resources, Hager said, are “wholly inadequate.”

“We’ve all learned some lessons from this,” Hager said.

The report also provides a critique of the post-disaster situation.

It brings light on a housing shortage for victims ousted from their homes by the floods.

FEMA’s temporary housing units were helpful–but only for those outside of risky flood zones where FEMA wouldn’t place the trailers.

That led to people finding whatever they could in terms of putting a roof over their heads.

The agency received numerous complaints about “landlords taking advantage of these desperate tenants and renting units that lacked heat, appropriate plumbing, even windows and doors.”

The report also suggests people with local knowledge play more of a role in case management services.

FEMA case managers, though welcomed, often lacked familiarity with local institutions, according to the report.

“Too many were not even from NYS and were therefore not familiar with the communities, the helping institutions or the state systems that had been set up to assist,” the report states.

One means that might help streamline the process by which people get help is to establish a single application that could be used on the state and federal levels, Hager said.

The agency also faced difficulties in finding people who needed help — many were reluctant to seek assistance, others wanted to “go it alone.”

The United Way is urging New York state to make the 211 phone number, dedicated to providing information and referral services, available statewide.

The United Way fielded more than 3 million calls to the number from people who needed guidance, but its services in that regard didn’t qualify for reimbursement. Hager said the United Way simply absorbed those costs.

 
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