Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Veterinary Clinic Aims to Alleviate Burden of Hurricane Sandy

Residents of the Northeast are still hurting from Hurricane Sandy, but pet owners have been given a resource that will hopefully help alleviate some of the financial burden. Julian Omidi discusses the veterinary clinic that was organized in Staten Island that provided free medical services to local pets.

In times of environmental crisis, when homes and businesses have been destroyed and even lives lost, it is very easy and perhaps natural to forget the welfare of the animals affected by the devastation. However, a group of veterinarians throughout the Northeast region hasn’t forgotten, and has organized several veterinary care events for people whose expenses have grown too great to give the pets the care that they need in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.1

The event, which took place June 29th and was the fourth in four months, recruited veterinary offices throughout Staten Island so that pet owners could get their dogs, cats and other animals checked and vaccinated, as well as the proper medications and bloodwork performed. The Complete Care Veterinary Center, Richmond Valley Veterinary Practice, the Northside Animal Hospital and the New York City Veterinary Emergency Response Team all took part in the event.

The stress of Hurricane Sandy has caused medical issues for residents and their pets. Many of the pet owners visiting the clinic have animals that haven’t been able to afford their pets’ medications, or were unable to give their pets their regular exercise due to the fact that they have been displaced from their homes, or their yards aren’t useable. Because many homes now have to be elevated in order to be in compliance with new insurance requirements, families simply don’t have the funds for pet care needs.

After the storm, there were numerous pets running loose and scared, lost and often injured. The population of animals separated from their homes and owners were not only a danger to themselves, but also to people, since nervous animals are often aggressive animals. Fortunately, the animal welfare organizations were able to step up and rescue many of the lost animals, often using social media as a very effective tool.

Even though Hurricane Sandy made landfall more than 9 months ago, there are still hundreds of animals looking for a permanent home after the storm.Animal rescue organizations are still taxed, and finding appropriate sheltering facilities is still a concern.Many pet owners were so overwhelmed by their circumstances that they had to give up pets that were a part of the family for years. Hopefully, the veterinary initiative will help financially strapped families keep their pets in loving homes.

1 Sedon, Michael: Pets of Hurricane Sandy Victims Get Free Care on Staten Island 6/29/1013

Friday, May 10, 2013

Co-Op Owners May Not Receive Help from FEMA After Hurricane Sandy

For co-op residents whose homes were damaged in Hurricane Sandy, financial assistance from FEMA may not be forthcoming.  

Cooperative housing, a system that exists all over the nation but flourishes in New York City, is a housing agreement wherein apartment dwellers, rather than legally own or rent their units, instead purchase a share of the entire building. The legal distinction may not appear to mean much to the average person, but after Hurricane Sandy, the difference has cost many co-op apartment dwellers Federal Emergency Management Agency aid, even though many of the buildings and residencies were damaged extensively by the storm.[1]

Under current law, co-op owners cannot apply for aid to their individual units or common areas because that is seen as the responsibility of the entire building, which is regarded as a business, even though no actual profits are sought or even received. Although issue was addressed before after Hurricane Wilma in Florida, it has never been resolved. However, because no other region in the nation that has such a high percentage of co-ops has ever been hit by a storm the size of Hurricane Sandy, the problem will not be as easy to ignore. 

Approximately 20 percent of the residencies hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy were co-ops. Even though the common image of co-op dwellers is that of well-to-do, moneyed American aristocracy, many co-op residents are senior citizens and retirees for whom additional financial obligations would be devastating. 
FEMA can, however, provide aid for damaged furniture and possessions, in much the same way that renter’s insurance does.  However, areas such as the roof or boilers, for example, are considered “common areas,” to be addressed by the board and the tenants. 

Appeals have been made by local representatives for the purpose of changing legislation, so that co-ops might qualify for a portion of the repair funds. However, the real difficulty lies in finding representatives from other states who will support an allotment for co-ops. Because many senators and congressmen and women come from regions that are often hit by natural disasters such as floods and tornadoes, they might not be amenable to the possibility that FEMA funding could be diverted to a New York co-op.

[1] Navarro, Mireya: U.S. Rules Bar Aid to Co-ops Hit by Sandy New York Times 5/1/2013

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hurricane Sandy Relief Funds Might Not Be Used to Rebuild Homes

Six months after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, property owners are still struggling with the costs of repairs, and it was recently discovered that New York City residents might not be allowed to use federally granted funds to rebuild their homes. 

New Yorkers still have a hurdle to overcome with regard to funding for hurricane repairs and renovations: federal relief money disbursed to private citizens can only be used to build new structures, not restore damaged ones.[1] However, no such restrictions are given to Long Island residents, even though the amount of money being given to the districts is almost the same (New York has been allotted $1.8 billion; Long Island $1.7billion). The funding for structural repair is desperately needed, since many of the severely damaged homes will have to be not only repaired, but elevated as well, in accordance with new flood safety standards.[2]

The lack of consistency with regard to how monies can be used within a single state is causing consternation among not only New York City residents, many of whom are still not able to move back into their homes, but also among state and local officials. Senator Chuck Schumer wrote in a letter to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shawn Donovan that there must be uniformity with regard to relief funding for all residents of New York State. “A homeowner in Rockaway Beach will not be eligible for the same benefit that a homeowner in Long Beach, just 10 miles away, will be able to access."

The New Yorkers without flood insurance who are looking to repair their homes and businesses might have reason for hope, however, since the plans for the allotment of funds are “only preliminary,” according to a spokesperson for the City.

It was announced that residents who were still unable to inhabit their homes would be moved from Federal Emergency Management Agency-funded hotels into temporary apartments. FEMA would pay the rental, as well as administrative, costs for the initiative.

Any funding for rebuilding efforts will certainly come in handy, considering that many residences will have to be elevated in order to comply with the new safety standards. The price of elevating a structure is steep—between $10,000 and $100,000, not including the cost of any other related expenses, such as a new foundation. Nevertheless, certain structures lying within the current advisory flood maps will be required to be elevated. Others outside of the flood area will not necessarily have to be elevated, but homeowners will have to decide whether to bear the costs of elevation or contend with substantially higher insurance rates.

[1] Hurricane Sandy relief rules restrict New Yorkers from  using cash to rebuild 4/11/2013
[2] Harris, Elizabeth: Going Up a Few Feet, and Hoping to Avoid a Storm’s Path New York Times 4/15/2013

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Superstar Hockey Players Raise $50,000 for Hurricane Sandy Relief

The North American Hockey Legends held an exhibition game on April 13th to raise money for victims of Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey. 

At the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey former players for the New Jersey Devils and other former hockey legends played an exhibition game against Russian Hockey Legends to raise money for charity. In all they were able to raise more than $50,000 with an attendance of 6,000.

Each member of the North American team sported special jerseys for the event; the words New Jersey appeared on the jerseys with Sandy 2012 emblazoned below them, also featuring two hurricane flags as part of the design. The North American team stayed to colors worn by the New Jersey Devils and each player wore a black stripe that highlighted different municipalities that were hard hit by Hurricane Sandy throughout the state. Jerseys worn by the players were auctioned off live at the event, with play Brian Leetch's jersey raising more than $2,200 for Hurricane Sandy relief.

The game itself resulted in a win for the Russians of 7-6, despite North America coming back from a 6-2 deficit in the third period. But the result of the game was not what was important to the players or those in attendance; the point was to raise money to help those in need and in this way it was a great success.

For more information on the charity exhibition you can read the article from Bleacher Report.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Hurricane Sandy Transitional Housing Program to End

Federal shelter assistance will end May 1st for those who were displaced by Hurricane Sandy. 

It was announced today by Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie that the Transitional Sheltering Assistance program that was instituted by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) after Hurricane Sandy collided with the state will end May 1, 2013. This decision to institute the final extension sought by the State is a result of exhaustive casework that concluded almost all of those who were participating in the program will have secured solutions for long-term housing by that date.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy there has been an intensive outreach program that has involved phone calls, electronic notifications and communications, as well as counseling in person for those who required housing solutions. Of the roughly 5,500 families that were displaced in New Jersey, roughly only 219 residents remain displaced, and both the Governor and FEMA believe that they will be able to find housing for them.

Said Governor Christie, in a statement issued today:

"FEMA’s Transitional Sheltering Assistance Program has been invaluable in giving Sandy-displaced families the time they need to find a safe, suitable housing solution that works for them. Now, six months after Sandy’s landfall, we are able to conclude the program with an effort to help the last remaining families solidify a long-term housing solution. I thank FEMA for their work with us to keep this program running as long as was required to secure the best possible housing options displaced families, and bring a successful close to the program.” 

Over the course of the federal assistance programs, 435 hotels participated in the Transitional Sheltering Assistance program with 253,425 room nights being provided with a stay of an average of 31 days. Once the program has concluded the total cost is expected to be just below $34 million.

You can read more about this program through the official statement made by the State of New Jersey.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mold Concerns Remain After Hurricane Sandy

Five months after Hurricane Sandy made landfall and as the restoring and rebuilding efforts are more or less under way, there is still what maybe a lingering public health issue potentially affecting everyone repairing their homes. Julian Omidi discusses the efforts to address this problem, as well as the health concerns.

With all of the problems that Hurricane Sandy left in its destructive wake, there is one that is not readily detectable but may have consequences that could endure even after much of the devastation has been cleared: mold.[1]

Even the buildings that did not suffer particularly grievous structural damage were nonetheless saturated with water. The moist environment coupled with the spores lingering in the atmosphere left a perfect breeding ground for mold, which is believed to aggravate certain chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma, although there is as yet no conclusive research proving that mold in itself is a major threat to health. Allergy and asthma sufferers may nevertheless find that their symptoms are more acute than they typically are, and will therefore find it difficult to breathe and sleep in mold-infested environments.

Nonetheless, it has been found that moldy conditions do seem to worsen allergies, and people with compromised immune systems due to severe existing illnesses may be in danger of weakening further if persistently exposed to mold.

Getting federal relief funds for mold removal can be tricky. FEMA does allot some money for the remediation of mold, but only after its presence has been visually verified by an inspector from the agency. However, even though the mold may be lurking invisible beneath the surface, it cannot necessarily be spotted for, sometimes, many months.

Funding for mold removal for Hurricane Sandy victims will partly come from the federal allotment and partly from private donations. The American Red Cross and The Robin Hood Foundation are expected to contribute a significant portion. The $15 million is expected to be disbursed among the 2,000 structures that have already been overtaken with advanced levels of mold since the hurricane.

There are initiatives under way to help homeowners handle mold on their own. Residents can take free courses on the best ways to clean up mold using household soaps and solvents, as well as tips on how to hire professional mold remediation companies to remove it, since New York State doesn’t issue licenses to professional mold removers, and therefore doesn’t have an established set of standards for such companies.

Mold is a common nuisance for many households. If you think your home could have a mold problem because your own allergies or asthma have become difficult to manage, it is advisable to have a professional contractor inspect the premises and possibly perform an air quality test. Mold can significantly devalue a home in addition to possibly causing physical discomfort to its inhabitants.

[1] Maslin-Nir, Sarah: Questions Emerge About the Mold that Hurricane Sandy Left Behind New York Times 3/1/2013

Monday, March 11, 2013

Discrepancies Over Billing During Hurricane Sandy Power Outages

New Jersey residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the force of Hurricane Sandy have begun to receive utility bills that reflect power usage that would have been flat-out impossible, considering not only the power outages, but also the fact that many of the homes and businesses were uninhabitable after the storm.

Many New Jersey residents are reporting utility bills that don’t seem to reflect the amount of power that is being used. In fact, many of these bills from Jersey Central Power & Light seem to be grossly inflated, since the residences for which the power usage was estimated were knocked from the foundations and therefore uninhabitable[1].

The billing practice for Jersey Central Power & Light (as well as other power companies) is to estimate the amount of power that should have been used during a particular time frame and bill the customer based on that assessment. What JCP & L failed to take into account was that the amount of power used by many New Jersey inhabitants post-hurricane was significantly less than what it ordinarily would have been. A woman who lives in Seaside Park received a series of utility bills from the months of October through February for the same pre-hurricane amount, only she hadn’t been in her home in two months. When she contacted JCP & L, she was told by a service representative that the billing would take approximately 30 days to resolve.

JCP & L has told residents who have received erroneous bills that they are free to call their help line for assistance, but hasn’t yet issued a statement regarding the billing practices. Recently, JCP & L announced their plans to implement a 4.5 percent rate increase in order to pay for the restoration and repair of the utility lines that had fallen during the storm.

It is estimated that 10,000 homes in Ocean County are still unoccupied, and many of the owners are still receiving estimated utility bills.

The inaccurate bills, combined with the intent to raise the rates, have caused outrage among many New Jersey residents, who don’t believe that the service that they received after the storm merited a rate hike.
Power wasn’t fully restored for weeks after the storm for many home and business owners, and the communication within the utility company was so poor that the field representatives didn’t even know where the outages were, in spite of local officials notifying of the locations. According to Robbinsville Mayor David Fried, many officials will try to appeal the rate hike request, and try to lobby for the option of choosing the power company for the region, rather than having a power supplier assigned without negotiation.

[1] Friedman, Alexi: Some Hurricane Sandy-Affected Residents Report ‘Wildly Inaccurate’ Electric Bills 3/4/2013 The Star Ledger