About half of the 27,000 households that applied for federal relief funds in the Bronx and Queens after the remnants of Hurricane Ida battered the region were allotted any money, according to new data from the agency provided by New York Congressional representatives.
Through November 22nd, 5,087 Queens residents and 4,628 Bronx residents who applied for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were denied, about 35% of applicants, according to data provided by the offices of Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman. Others withdrew their applications or were still waiting for them to be reviewed by FEMA.
Overall, the agency had approved around 13,000 applications in the two boroughs. Across the 10 impacted New York counties, a spokesperson for FEMA said of the 83,604 people who started applications by Monday, 35,112 had been approved for funding, or about 41%. The agency had allocated $167 million in funds, for an average pay out of $4,700 per household. The spokesperson declined to say how many people across New York were denied.
Bowman and Ocasio-Cortez asked FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell for clarity on why a person would have been denied funding in a Nov. 30 letter that touched on other concerns with FEMA relief funds, like the low dollar amount many of their constituents were offered from the agency.
“[We’ve heard] countless stories from constituents in our districts wondering about the limited relief. Many other constituents recount long processing times and automatic denials,” the letter reads. “Despite submitting applications in early September, some of our constituents have yet to receive a decision, let alone any funds to begin essential repairs.”
Ida pummeled the New York metro area on Sept. 2, dropping a historic 3.15 inches of rain in a single hour, submerging roadways and basements, and killing 16 New Yorkers and 30 people in New Jersey. In the storm’s aftermath President Joe Biden toured some flood-stricken areas and promised relief.
But among those denied federal aid was Jennifer Moreno, 47, who lives on the very block Biden visited. Moreno shares a three-story home with her two kids and her brother, who lived in the basement until Ida submerged his basement apartment in six feet of floodwater. The home technically belongs to the sibling’s recently deceased mother, so their application for FEMA funding was denied, though they’re now working on an appeal. The family has been without heat since the storm, and don’t have the $12,000 needed to make the necessary repairs to restore it.
“We’re family and we’re making it work,” Moreno said. “Just taking it day by day. At least we have hot water. We didn’t have hot water for over a month.”
Another East Elmhurst resident, Catalina Carrasco, was also denied. A contractor told her there was $26,000 dollars in damage to her basement, but FEMA notified her she wouldn’t receive any funding, citing her answer on a questionnaire where she stated that she hadn’t had to evacuate her home.
“I pay taxes. I have never, ever received any public help….And then when you have a situation where you need assistance and they tell you, “No. You didn’t qualify,’” she said. “It’s irrational because the basement is the whole foundation of my house. If my basement doesn’t support my house, my house will tumble.”
Without any assistance from FEMA, Carrasco said she thinks piecemeal repairs will take her several years to complete. She’s appealed the decision but hasn’t heard back.
Kevin Sur, a spokesperson for FEMA, said there are many reasons why applications for funding were denied, and that people can appeal within 60 days of when they received it.
“FEMA continues to work with disaster survivors to ensure they receive all of the assistance for which they are eligible,” Sur said. FEMA also recently extended the deadline for New York and New Jersey residents to apply for federal aid through early January.
The low-payout per household was previously reported on by WNYC/Gothamist. Some people whose homes flooded were offered a small amount of funding and told to apply for low-interest loans instead. FEMA representatives have told the public their role isn’t to make people “whole,” rather to address core issues that deem a person’s home is habitable or not. Others whose homes are fully uninhabitable after the storm were thrust into the city’s shelter system, or were crashing with friends and extended family, while searching for new places to live.
A review of past disaster declarations found similarly low average pay out, though after Hurricane Sandy, New York households received an average of $8,608, twice as much as during Ida. State Senator Jessica Ramos, whose Queens district was badly hit by flooding, said the hurdles her constituents have faced should set off alarm bells that local and federal governments need to do better, as the region is likely to see more frequent and more destructive storms as the planet warms.
“It’s not an impending crisis, it is here, it’s displacing people now,” she said. “I hope the feedback FEMA has received from those who were counting on them for help has been a wake-up call, and that we won’t find ourselves in this position for the next storm.”