Cash assistance has been distributed to 288 households so far, for a total of $1,601,210: 345 applications have been finalized and 201 are still being processed. Stakeholders say the fund is unlikely to open up to applicants again.
More than seven months after Hurricane Ida flooded the streets of New York, the state fund created for affected undocumented immigrants and others not eligible for federal assistance has dispersed just under 2 million dollars after the April 29 close, only part of the $27 million set aside by officials.
The Hurricane Ida Relief Fund has been closed and extended multiple times, operating synchronously with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) application periods. During the last application period from February to April, only 36 additional applications were received, bringing the total to 546 applications since the fund launched in September 2021, Governor Kathy Hochul’s office reported. The city and state created the program to help storm victims who were ineligible for FEMA relief assistance, including those excluded from federal assistance due to their immigration status. . During the most recent extension period, 18 people applied were eligible for FEMA assistance and were referred to it instead, officials said.
Cash assistance has been distributed to 288 households so far, for a total of $1,601,210. 345 requests have been finalized and 201 are still being processed. So far, residents of Queens County have gotten the most relief funds, followed by those living in Westchester and Brooklyn.
Carola Otero Bracco, executive director of Neighbors Link, one of six community-based organizations (CBOs) selected to administer and distribute the fund, says her group alone has distributed around $220,000 to candidates in Westchester where they are based. More than 14% of those who have received funding so far have been from Westchester County.
|Distribution of the Ida Fund|
When asked why the amount of disbursement was so slow, community organizations that administer the funds explained that there were several checks to be carried out before an applicant could access the funding. “Getting funds into the hands of people who need them after a disaster is probably never fast enough,” said Julianne Pannelli, director of special projects at Catholic Charities Community Services (CCCS).
“It takes time for households to provide supporting documentation, time for case managers to review those documents and complete claim forms, time for supervisors to approve and submit those claim forms, time for the agency to checks and time for case managers to set up appointments with clients to disburse the funds,” she explained by email.
Documenting the losses was also difficult for applicants, the organizations insisted. The Ida Relief Program provided a maximum of $72,000 per eligible household (up to $36,000 in housing assistance grants and up to $36,000 in assistance for other needs). But that aid wasn’t announced until 25 days after Ida’s remains hit New York, so those affected have focused on surviving the storm’s aftermath, rather than documenting every step of their loss. .
“Due to the announcement of the program a month later, the applicants are moving and no longer living in the damaged property, and therefore it is difficult to prove need and displacement,” said Steve Mei, director of CPC Brooklyn Community. Services, another non-profit organization administering the fund.
Shane Yu, a special project associate at the MinKwon Center for Community Action who was in charge of their Chinese-language applicants, noted that fear of applying for government assistance may also have kept people from applying. About 11 people who qualified and started the application process later withdrew it, Yu said.
The time between request and disbursement was also not the most efficient. A few days before the first application deadline (November 26, 2021), only 32 applicants had received funds and by December 66 had received them, as previously reported by City Limits. The organizations do not have an average estimate of how long it would take an applicant to receive the money, saying it all depends on the help requested.
For example, Yu said it could take up to two or three months for a person to get funds; Pannelli estimated that the average is around 3 weeks, from the time of receipt of all documents until disbursement.
“The process can take up to a month,” Mei said, throwing out another variable to consider: payment method. “Time may be determined by payment method, direct deposit, debit cards, etc.”
The vast majority of the cash assistance distributed so far, $1,212,634, has gone to the “other assistance needs” category, which covers items such as vehicle damage, moving costs and child care. And very few applications received direct housing assistance, representing only $388,575 of the funds distributed.
According to the State Department, applicants statewide had received an average payout of about $5,555 at that time. Just over $3 million of the $27 million would be used if that average amount continued to be distributed to the rest of those who applied.
End of the road?
The application period is over, but organizations will continue to work on the program. According to the State Department, 201 applications are still being processed. However, this extension seems to be the last.
“The extension period that just ended did not provide an indication of the additional needs and the suppliers did not request another extension,” said Mercedes Padilla, spokesperson for the New York State Department. .
Organizations such as CCCS agreed. “At the moment it doesn’t seem like an extension of the program is necessary,” Pannelli said.
But almost all the money in the fund would remain unused. Organizations handing out the dollars are pushing to either make the fund permanent to help future victims of the storm or divert unused funds to a program that helps the same undocumented population.
Mei said he met last month with the mayor’s office commissioner for immigration affairs, Manuel Castro. “We talked about the Ida Relief Fund, and he understood that there was money left over that needed to be distributed to help our community members,” he said.
When questioned, state officials said it was too early to decide what to do with the remaining money. “At the moment, our focus is on helping those who have been affected. It is too early to determine the amount of global funds that will be allocated as the process continues,” Padilla said.
And regarding the remaining money, officials said the enacted 2023 budget places the remaining funds in the State Department’s budget to meet any requests received.