With federal officials admitting that temporary housing is not a viable option for Long Islanders displaced by Superstorm Sandy, the government has created a “quick fix-it solution” to get people out of the cold: shelter residents inside their own homes.
To do that, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), with the help of local and state officials, created a new program that enables hurricane survivors to have contractors conduct minor repairs at homes damaged by the storm. The STEP program—short for Shelting and Temporary Essential Power—will also assist Sandy victims in getting their power restored by having workers repair home electrical hardware.
“Nobody wants to be in temporary housing, nobody wants to be in shelters, they all want to be home,” Emergency Services Commissioner Jerry Hauer said at a press conference Wednesday at Nassau’s emergency management office in Bethpage.
The program is available for all residents living in a federally declared county, which includes Nassau and Suffolk. It is in addition to FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program. But it’s only a temporary solution, officials said, intended to make sure homes are habitable until permanent repairs are made.
Michael Byrne, federal coordinating officer for FEMA, said STEP is a departure from past housing programs initiated by FEMA, which usually includes mobile homes. Housing residents at hotels is also not an option because the holiday season brings an influx of people to the area, Byrne noted.
“Cold weather is here,” he said, “and this is not a nice-to-do thing…this is a must-to-do thing, lives are at stake.”
“This is not the permanent fix,” Byrne added. “This is an emergency step so people can get back in their homes while they do the emergency repairs.”
Once residents apply for STEP, a FEMA contractor will be dispatched and conduct marginal repairs to homes, such as patching up windows or exterior doors, placing a tarp on a roof, electrical work and inspections, officials said.
Those taking part in STEP will also be able to apply for a grant program that distributes up to $31,900 to residents to make permanent repairs. More than $390 million has already been allocated statewide.
State and federal officials hailed the decision by FEMA to beef up their support for devastated areas.
“When Hurricane Sandy hit our state, New Yorkers saw their homes severely damaged or completely destroyed,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “Now it is time to restore and rebuild these homes.”
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who last week called on President Barack Obama to ratchet up funding for Sandy victims and help end the blackouts, also praised the move.
“I am pleased the Obama Administration listened to the urgent needs of the victims of Hurricane Sandy and stepped in to fill the void left by the Long Island Power Authority,” King said.
King said the program would help Long Island Power Authority restoration efforts in the hardest-hit flooded communities that require extensive repairs and inspections in order to get power turned back on.
As of Wednesday, 190,000 residents in the state have taken advantage of FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program, officials said, a number that Byrne said was far too low considering the state’s population.
To apply for assistance residents can call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or visit www.disasterassistance.gov.