FEMA is cautioning people after Hurricane Sandy that just because they have not been approved for money does not mean they have been denied help.
“It’s not an outright denial,” said Chris Mckniff, local spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “There are just certain things keeping the application from being completed.”
Applicants will receive letters indicating why payment has not been approved. Often, it could be as simple as a missing piece of information or the need to wait to see what insurance will cover, since FEMA cannot duplicate those benefits.
Statewide, FEMA has received more than 254,000 applications and approved more than $83 million in assistance, Mckniff said.
Ron Bailey, of Atlantic City, has not been one of the recipients.
When a FEMA representative visited his Texas Avenue home last week, things looked good, he said. The agent asked if Bailey, his mother and brother would be willing to relocate while repairs were being made.
But, on Thursday, his mother called the hotline only to have a recording tell her they had been denied.
“I know she’s upset because she’s disabled,” Bailey said of his mother, Barbara, 64. “She (was already) going month-to-month, barely getting by. Now we’re trying to figure out how we’re going to get everything back up and running if we don’t get assistance.”
Bailey was working in the city where he’s a part-time emergency medical technician when the storm came through. His mother was home.
“We lost everything pretty much on our first floor,” he said. “Our heater, hot water heater, washer, dryer, kitchen appliances.”
Stephen Weiss had two feet of water in his Chelsea Heights basement. Everything stored there was lost — including sentimental items that can’t be replaced. He knows there is mold because the smell is strong.
Even though a FEMA representative has not see his home yet, Weiss already has received help.
He’s currently staying at the Sheraton in Atlantic City courtesy of the federal assistance program.
FEMA pays for everything, except incidentals. Some hotels require a deposit for those, which is not covered, Mckniff said.
Hotels are filling up, though. The better option, if available, is to move into a rental unit, which FEMA may also cover. Mckniff said FEMA does cover the security deposit for those.
Weiss is hoping a FEMA representative will get to his home soon, since his landlord is waiting to fix anything until the damage is officially catalogued.
For homes inspectors cannot get to for various reasons, including closed roads, FEMA is using geospatial imaging to look at a property, Mckniff explained.
“We’re working around some of the challenges we’re having in getting to certain areas,” he said. “It helps speed the process and get applications done.”
Lisa Keller knows what the waiting is like.
The Atlantic County native moved to Port Charles, Fla., in 2001. Three years later, her home was hit by Hurricane Charley.
The two-story home they were renting was hit hard.
“The damage was pretty bad,” she wrote in an email about her experience. “All the (living room) windows leaked and all my furniture was destroyed.”
FEMA came out and assessed the home, then sent a letter: “Not eligible.”
They appealed the decision and after a week — and several faxes and phone calls — they received a check to replace their lost items, Keller reports.
“Appeal is a very, very big part of the process,” Mckniff said. “We highly stress people read the entire letter. Many, many times it’s something just missing. It certainly doesn’t mean that’s it.”
But first, he said, people must apply with FEMA.
“We need people to register,” he said. “We can’t help at all if people don’t register.”
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