Rep. Donovan questions FEMA communication after Sandy
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- After collecting stories from Staten Islanders about their experiences with Hurricane Sandy, Rep. Daniel Donovan shared them with a Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator this week to put names to the many victims of the storm.
Donovan (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) had asked Staten Islanders to submit their Sandy stories to his office, and on Thursday, in the House Committee on Homeland Security's Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications, used them to ask FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate to address issues.
"Over the past weeks, my staff has been collecting stories from constituents who were affected by Superstorm Sandy," Donovan said during the testimony. "And these people are still struggling to recover from the disaster in part because of the difficulties they have navigating through the complex recovery programs."
He explained that Carolyn Lauer from Oakwood is a 72-year-old widow who had just paid off her mortgage before Sandy struck.
Following directions from FEMA, she took out a $126,000 loan from the federal Small Business Association to pay for repairs to her damaged home. She became aware later that had she waited, she would have been eligible for grants. But having taken the loans, she was not.
"She is now 72 years old and burdened with a new mortgage," Donovan told Fugate. "Whose responsibility do you believe it should be to inform people that if ... people took out an SBA loan they then would be ineligible for future grants, when their neighbors, who did not take out SBA loans were eligible for these grants?"
Fugate noted that right after the storm when people were instructed to take SBA loans, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had not yet begun to administer loans.
"So at that point, that probably was the best information we had," he said.
Months later, Congress passed a bill to appropriate HUD funds. That federal agency gave money to the states and the states determined how to administer the grants, in the case of New York City, through the Build it Back program.
Donovan pointed out that federal rules since 2011 had precluded recipients of SBA loans from receiving HUD-funded grants. Why weren't people told this, he asked.
"Had they known that applying for the loan may preclude them from those future grants they may have mad different decisions," the congressman said.
Fugate clarified that at the time, FEMA didn't know that HUD funding was coming but
said he would bring those communication concerns back to him office.
With a buried seawall project planned for the East Shore, Donovan asked at what point that is taken into consideration as a mitigating factor and used to lower people's insurance premiums in those areas.
Fugate said the federal flood insurance program will consider the project even before it's complete if its completion is expected to fall within the period of time that the insurance plan covers.