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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Another FEMA forum grows heated
Residents express frustration over federal block grant restrictions
Alexandra Spychalsky
Homeowner Frank Conrad, right, asked Ice Arena worker Michael Raab a question at the May 1 forum.

For the second time in the six months since Hurricane Sandy devastated Long Beach, the city invited representatives from the nation’s disaster recovery agencies to a forum to address residents’ questions and concerns. And for the second time, residents were unsatisfied with the outcome.

Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Small Business Administration, the New York State Department of Financial Services and other agencies gathered at City Hall on May 1, along with roughly 300 residents, in what quickly turned into a heated and often disorganized forum.

The meeting was advertised as a way for residents to learn more about different sources of funding they may be eligible for, including Increased Cost of Compliance, Hazard Mitigation and Community Development Block Grants. The forum was a follow-up to an equally chaotic session in February. Agency representatives came armed with presentations, but were quickly drawn off task by angry residents who barraged them with questions on everything from problems with their insurance companies to elevating their homes.

“We came for answers, not to look at a handout,” one audience member shouted.

Block grant money may not come quickly

Residents made their frustration clear when they learned that $1.7 billion in federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program funding for New York may not be available as quickly as they had hoped. Lawmakers have lauded the block grant program as a more flexible source of funding, easier to attain than FEMA grants and SBA loans.

Michael Raab, a county employee that has been stationed at the Ice Arena, was merely there as a spectator, but said he was asked by city officials to take the microphone to help subdue the restless crowd. At the Ice Arena, Raab helps residents fill out the application for NY Rising, the state agency tasked with distributing recently released CDBG money, and he shared some of his knowledge, as well as his experience as a Sandy victim himself. He explained that the grant is based on the amount of aid an applicant has already received from FEMA, SBA, insurance or donations. The grants are intended only to supplement those aid sources, and to cover the “unmet needs” of home and business owners, Raab said.

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