NEW YORK—When Hurricane Sandy slammed into New York on Oct. 29, the city’s low-lying areas were severely damaged, and no borough was hit harder than Staten Island.
The beachfront areas of Midland Beach, South Beach, New Dorp Beach, and Oakwood, areas where the immigrant population is almost 20 percent, sustained particularly heavy damage.
The state has asked for $60.4 billion in aid to help families and businesses recover from Sandy, however not everyone will be eligible. The forms are complicated, and for immigrants whose native language is not English, navigating the system can be a challenge.
Make the Road New York, a community-based advocacy group, interviewed 416 immigrant families on Staten Island and Long Island coping with trying to get aid. According to its report, released on Tuesday, 78 percent of the immigrants surveyed in the disaster zones had not applied for relief.
The report cites various reasons, including inability to navigate the forms, fear of using government assistance due to their immigration status, and ineligibility due to immigration status.
“My neighbors have contributed to the community. Immigrant or not, their contributions are the same as mine,” said Midland Beach resident Lyn Geller, whose house sustained damage during the storm. “I am ashamed my neighbors can’t get help they need.”
Geller’s next door neighbor of six years, Maria Raquel Sanchez, did not qualify for FEMA aid. Sanchez, who took care of two children at a nearby home, lost her job when the family was displaced following Sandy, and she has been unable to find a new job.
Sanchez has tried to look for a new place to move her family, but with no income, higher rents, and no financial aid in her future, the hardships are adding up. “How can we pay for this when we have lost everything?” Sanchez said through an interpreter in front of her house on Tuesday.
Certain short-term disaster relief services from the city, state, and federal levels are available to anyone, regardless of immigration status, including emergency medical care, crisis counseling, emergency shelter, food, water, and medicine.
The federal government issued a one-time cash assistance for food program called D-SNAP (Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). The program began on Dec. 12, and despite pleas from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to extend it, it stopped on Dec. 18. Only 3,911 of the estimated 30,000 eligible families citywide applied.
On Midland Avenue, Saint Vincent DePaul set up a food truck and was allowing anyone to pick up food. For items such as coats and clothes, a driver’s license to verify residence in an affected area was required.
Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for FEMA assistance, which would provide cash assistance to pay for temporary housing, repair housing, and replace some possessions. Children of undocumented immigrants can apply for FEMA aid, but it will only cover the children, not their undocumented parents.
Residents who are renting are not eligible for home repair assistance from FEMA. Their landlord can be eligible. However, many of the residents in Midland Beach found that to be a problem.
Sanchez, who was renting her home, stood in front of a newly erected chain link fence, an addition the landlord installed on Dec. 13 to keep them out. The residents of the multi-dwelling house said the landlord told them he would not be rebuilding the homes because it was too expensive.
This has left Sanchez and her neighbors without a place to go and with limited options. Rental prices have skyrocketed post-Sandy due to the influx of renters in the already crowded market.
Cindy Maffeo, a life-long Midland Beach resident, lived in the same building Sanchez lived in. Despite her legal immigration status and a full-time job, she is running into much the same problems as Sanchez. Maffeo cannot find affordable housing on Staten Island and has been staying with her mother following the storm.
Maffeo was upset that FEMA trailers had not been set up at nearby Miller Field to give her an alternative housing option.
“I have no home,” Maffeo said. “How much longer can I live with my mother? Enough is enough.”
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