9/11 AID PROGRAM NEEDS REFORM
NEW YORK: Today, a coalition of New Yorkers urged the immediate reform of a 9/11 aid program meant to help families and individuals after the disaster, but failing in numerous ways. The program in question is the FEMA Individual and Family Grants (IFG) program that is being managed by the New York State Department of Labor. It allows for nearly $15,000 for lost or damaged property and home repairs after national disasters, but average aid provided through the program in New York ($1,039) is less than half what has typically been provided to individuals in other disasters around the country ($2,586), and applicants have experienced extreme delays in receiving decisions on aid by the state. In addition, the 13.8% to 26% approval rate for accepted applications after 9/11 is far lower than the IFG program's approval rate after other national disasters which averaged 55% in 2001.
New York Congressmembers Carolyn B. Maloney, Nydia Velazquez, and Jerrold Nadler, announced a third Congressional letter to the State asking for the immediate review and reform of the program, while a coalition of advocacy groups including the Urban Justice Center, the New York Immigration Coalition, Spotlight on the Poor, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and NMASS, and individuals who have experienced difficulty in applying for 9/11 aid, detailed problems with the program. The group posted on the door of the State Labor Department's offices "Ten Reasons New York Needs Reform Now" - detailing problems with the IFG program.
Congresswoman Maloney, who has spearheaded efforts in Congress to have the program reviewed, said, "This is a program of last resort for many New Yorkers in serious need of assistance and while some efforts have been made to improve the program, serious problems remain. Of all the problems we've seen in the delivery of aid so far, the failures of the IFG program are really the worst, not only because the state should have known better after witnessing FEMA's previous problems, but more so because this program is a last resort for people when other sources for help fall through. The State Labor Department's sluggish review of applications, the high rejection rate, the inferior level of aid provided compared to other disasters, and the bureaucratic hurdles that constituents have complained about are all unnecessary and totally unacceptable. We're calling on FEMA to take over the program, because they've reformed other aid programs effectively and we can expect more New Yorkers to get the help they need if this program is better managed."
The Congressional letters to Governor Pataki and FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh are attached and can be viewed at the url's below, as is the Urban Justice Report.
TEN REASONS NEW YORK NEEDS
REAL REFORM NOW
1. HIGH RATE OF REJECTION
According to FEMA, the IFG approval rate is approximately 13%. The N.Y.S. Department of Labor suggests that the approval rate is closer to 26%. Whether it is 13% or 26% the numbers are significantly lower than the national average of over 55% based on 27 different national disasters in 2001. The bottom line is that the people who need assistance are being denied in record numbers.
2. EXCESSIVE DOCUMENTATION REQUIREMENTS
N.Y.S Department of Labor rejects 85% of IFG applications mostly due to a lack of proper documentation. Yet the Code of Federal Domestic Assistance states that documentation for lost personal property is not required to receive emergency assistance. Further, strict documentation requirements do not take into account the reality of New York City's cash-based economy. Assistance should be based on need, not on the ability to produce an overwhelming number documents. The overwhelming number of denied applications should be reviewed and reconsidered to ensure, that people in need get the help they deserve.
3. EXTREME DELAYS IN APPLICATION PROCESSING
Despite more than quadrupling the number of State employees assigned to the IFG program, barely half of the applications filed have been processed. This means that countless New Yorkers are still waiting for much -needed assistance, more than a year after the tragedy. While additional FEMA staff have helped increase the rate of processing applications, excessive delays have the effect of discouraging people in need to even apply.
4. PROGRAM EXPIRES NOVEMBER 30, 2002
Given poor outreach, conflicting messages, and delays in processing, the current IFG deadline will force many New Yorkers to miss out on available assistance. The application deadline should be extended to at least January 31, 2003, matching the current Mortgage and Rental Assistance (MRA) application deadline.
5. UNUSUALLY LOW AWARDS
The average IFG assistance award for 9/11 victims is $1,039 per claim. This falls far below the size of awards made under similar state-federal emergency relief programs. In 21 of 27 disasters during the 2001 fiscal year, the average aid package was $2,586 per claim, more than 2.5 times greater than what New Yorkers are receiving.
6. POOR PUBLIC OUTREACH
Huge numbers of qualified individuals never applied for disaster assistance, largely because they didn't know that they could. Poor outreach, especially in low-income neighborhoods, where need is greatest, has forced many New Yorkers to suffer much longer than necessary.
7. LACK OF HEALTH CARE COVERAGE
According to the IFG program website, grants are available for both medical and dental expenses. Yet the N.Y.S. Department of Labor chose to deny reimbursement for medical costs, referring applicants to [charity] organizations instead. Now that most of the alternative medical programs have expired, many New Yorkers are left without basic health coverage.
8. UNCLEAR PROGRAM REGULATIONS
The public is receiving mixed messages about what assistance is available to them under the IFG program. The website contains conflicting information and the only brochures that the N.Y.S. Department of Labor has produced contained outdated information. This confusion ultimately leads to ineligible applicants flooding the system, while those legitimately in need of assistance are neglected by a poorly administered program.
9. NO TRANSLATIONS OF THE NOTIFICATION OF DEADLINE EXTENSION FOR FOREIGN LANGUAGE COMMUNITIES
When asked for Spanish and Chinese translations of the November 30, 2002 deadline for the IFG application, the N.Y.S. Department of Labor deferred to FEMA. The N.Y.S. Department of Labor as the administrator of the program should have the appropriate translations, yet just one month before the deadline has failed to inform some of the most needy communities of the deadline expiration.
10. OVERCROWDING AT ASSISTANCE CENTERS
Because of the unclear regulations, language barriers and the evident need throughout New York, applicants begin to line up outside the Applicant Assistance Center at 6:00 a.m. every morning for assistance with their IFG applications. Once inside, the applicant is scheduled to return for an appointment date weeks later. As a result, people are suffering even longer than necessary.
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