On April 26, New York State announced that 1.7 billion had been made available to help people get back into their homes.
How long can people pay rent, mortgage, and utilities in two places? Maintain storage units and pods? Fill out applications to nowhere in Laundromats? Haul “hurricane bags” to work and parties alike so we are never caught without hard proof of what we are “claiming” when a long-awaited phone call arrives?
And oh, the time lost solving problems such as: which of five friends’ closets might my summer clothes be crowding? Into whose trunk did I frantically throw them last November? I never dreamed I’d need access to a sundress before it was back in my own closet. Before I even had a closet (that is, one covered with sheetrock and further enclosed by a door).
Maybe, though—maybe my tank tops are right here in this tiny apartment? Perhaps in the bottom storage tub in the pile of three we must squeeze past and then half-climb to crack a window? It could be that I will be fortunate enough to find it there, unroll it, and set up the ironing board in the narrow space that just fits an ironing board and myself as long as I stop ingesting that nightly “Sandy Chipwich.” Yes, with all the indulgences I vow to discontinue once home, I could almost get used to this place with its bathroom- and exit-blocking ironing board set-up space and my cute capris rolled up in crinkly, space-saving balls. They crowd our studio like crumpled papers in corners covered with formerly exciting ideas, these summer clothes that used to signify leisurely dinners on patios and concerts in the park.
Slightly hopeful that I might be able to salvage some of August, I filled out my 11-page application with seven attachments. We are here to help, New York said. Anyone who was refused by anyone will not be refused by us.
You sure? By not moving these funds or processing our applications, you are refusing us the help we need RIGHT NOW. We have been waiting, since we applied one month ago, for the promised call from a personal, yet-unnamed “housing recovery counselor” who would meet with us and “walk us through” the application they assume we have completed improperly. So I called yesterday, and patiently explained that in the one month since I submitted it we have spent $24,000 more of our family’s money on materials to raise the house. Help was on the way! Wasn’t it? Where is it?
I was told it was still possible I would receive a phone call, but I would most definitely get a letter telling me what was wrong on my application or missing or further required. Then I could call the person named in the letter and arrange a personal meeting where I would finally be handed a dull scissor with which I could blindly begin chopping at another six miles of red tape.
When would I receive this letter?
There is no timeline, Ma’am.
Like, days? Weeks? Months?
There is no timeline. I can tell you not one letter has gone out yet.
SOMEONE PLEASE BUY THESE PEOPLE SOME STAMPS!!!!!!!!
In other “assistance,” we have meanwhile come to discover that the up to $30,000 we might be eligible for in ICC help (Increased Cost of Compliance with new flood requirements for homes—ours now must be 14 ft above sea level) would not be distributed (if we “qualified”) until we can present a Certificate of Occupancy. Yep, you got it. We must be living in it before we can receive assistance for building it!
And now, folks who have rebuilt, raised, and applied are being reprimanded: Well, you found a way to pay for it, so obviously you don’t need the help.
If you are wondering why people affected by Sandy are still on Xanax, it is because we have seen eight ships come in—but instead of hauling us up, the sailors on board bounce aimlessly off guardrails absentmindedly singing “lalalalala, we can’t hear you, lalalalala,” recovering briefly now and then only to inquire if they’ve done a good job being of help.
(I am waiting for this very phone call from FEMA. I have heard it is coming).
If you are wondering why we arrive at your parties frazzled, it is because we cannot afford to replace drowned shoes and moldy make-up, and our sundresses are flung to the far corners of the earth.
We are trying to:
-go out and enjoy ourselves
-keep the end in mind
-count our blessings
-appreciate what we’ve got.
We are trying to travel far and wide to celebrate others’ joys, buy the gifts, and keep up with the calendar—and we always temper our emotions and words with thoughts and expressions of sympathy for those suffering fates way worse than ours.
We are trying to remember to call you on special days and hand in our plan books on time and smile.
Thank goodness we don’t have to apply for your patience. You have given it freely. Thank you. We are still the same under all this red tape—even better, I think we will find. And when we do, we will share our bounty. Just wait!
And wait. And wait. And wait….
(THANK YOU to Long Beach Christmas Angels; F.E.G.S.; my teachers’ union; colleagues, friends and family; and Traveler’s Flood and Homeowner’s Insurance, for continuing to help)