FEMA, predictably, fully supports its own initial judgment. Upon review, they have determined that they were absolutely in their right minds the first time they decided that a teacher (married to a man who lost his job and investment in the storm) who is rebuilding her house, raising it without a grant, and replacing its contents, has found an “affordable” living situation in which she pays rent in addition to mortgage (on a house that as of today, contains only floor boards)–as well as taxes, homeowners and flood insurance, utilities, mounting credit card bills, monthly phone and Internet, and daily living expenses.
I know that my resignation—or acceptance—might disappoint many, but I am tired of the battles and the flushed anger and trembling anxiety that floods my body at each denial. I do not want to fight anymore. We are always just out of the range of assistance: $1,000 too much in insurance, or $5,000 too much in income (every dollar of all of it is spent before it appears in my bank account), we are not ready to start soon enough, or we’re in too much of a hurry to start (after six months). Too much oil in the floodwater, not enough. Too much damage, too little. Sometimes there is no reason anyone can explicate—but while all the rules always apply to us, none of the very publicized help seems to.
Like the rest of you in Nassau County, I received a reassuring phone call from Tom Mangano yesterday telling me of newly released funds going straight to the people. I can see it now: I will spend another week on paperwork, proving things that will not convince anyone to give us anything. It does not matter what you say as a human to a human or even how much sense should be knocked into the listener by questions such as, “Can you imagine paying for everything listed above, on one teachers’ salary?” Of course they can’t. The person at the other end of the phone may know that it’s impossible, but they are forced to draw their rigid lines. The obvious is not cut-and-dried enough. For an agency to actually consider and act on it, there must be not just calculations, but comprehension and compassion.
I’m sorry. Did I say rigid lines? That is really not accurate. The rules have actually proven to be very flexible, but never bent in our direction. I have been telling everyone who deals with FEMA to call three times, get the three different answers, and then draw your conclusions. When I submitted my 49-page appeal with supporting documents, I made sure to include the wildly differing information that three different “advisors” told me I’d need to show. For instance, one told me her understanding of the secret of how they draw the line. In order to qualify for rental assistance, I needed to prove that my living expenses had gone up at least 30% since Sandy. I told her my initial application made that clear. She advised me to write it in bold this time and again attach all supporting documents, including at least one new one (if no new documents were included the appeal would be thrown away). For someone so thorough in her initial application, it was a challenge trying to come up with new proof of our situation, but I managed to. And in my appeal letter, I bolded the fact that we are not just paying 30% more in living expenses, but 66% more, on less income! And I proved it!
So, you see, I am moving away from that process and the hope that we will be given assistance. I am turning toward the gratitude for what we have been given: a beautiful life and the gift of each other, a new beginning, continuing help from family and friends, an unbelievably generous, brilliant, driven, and creative builder, and an exceptionally hard-working crew (they just put in a 12-hour day, and do 10-day stints). So many people in my neighborhood have none of the above. My initial reaction to a denial has become shorter-lived and softer, especially as I hear more and more about others’ completely dire situations. I have so much to be thankful for, and I am so over the negative (I think). By the end of the day, after finding out my housing appeal was denied, I was walking down the hall with a smile, responding, “I’m great,” when people asked me how I was. And I meant it.
I’m great. Money comes and goes. I refuse to go. I will not let fear consume Our Old Jenn. Steve and I are here to stay!
By the way, I started this entry a few nights ago, and now we have more than just floors! I am hanging out in my den taking pictures of our bedroom closets going in!