NY Sandy Victims Await Money From Recovery Program

Only five homeowners have gotten paid for repairs and 60 homeowners have received buyouts from the New York Rising program

More than a year after Sandy, a state program designed to help storm-devastated homeowners has handed out repair money to just five Long Island families out of thousands who have been promised funds, NBC 4 New York's I-Team has learned.

New York Rising, the state's federally funded housing recovery program, was announced in the spring of 2013. So far, five homeowners out of thousands who need help have gotten paid for repairs, and 60 homeowners have received home buyouts.

Of the 10,000 or more families who have applied for repair money, 4,600 have received letters that said it was on the way.

"This is the second holiday season we don't have a home," said Debbie Gialanze of Long Beach. "This is not Sandy's fault, this is FEMA, our government and insurance company's fault. They're keeping us from coming home."

The Gialanzes have not been able to start rebuilding their Long Beach home because they have only received about a third of the $250,000 insurance policy they have paid for over 26 years.

The family was told that the structural damage to their home occurred before Sandy and therefore would not be fully covered. It's a little-known provision in their policies called the earth movement exclusion clause.

Michele Mittleman of Freeport had to demolish her home because it was so badly damaged. She has not started rebuilding, either; she has received only half the value of her flood insurance policy.

Both Mittleman and Gialanze hoped New York Rising would help them where their flood insurance failed. In September, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that New York Rising would "fully compensate homeowners" or "repair costs of damage due to ‘earth movement'" and to "bridge this unfair gap in insurance coverage."

"We were ecstatic when Gov. Cuomo when he said he wanted to fully compensate earth movement exclusion clause victims," said Mittleman.

But neither Gialanze nor Mittleman have received a check. Instead, they have received award letters that, in their minds, only covered a portion of the cost of rebuilding.

New York Rising officials say the federal government requires them to deduct outside payments from flood and home insurance and even grants from charity in order to determine a fair amount that the federal government will pay.

Director Seth Diamond believes that the money provided will give people a chance to rebuild.

"We think we are giving them enough money combined with their other resources so they can have a home," said Diamond. "We also have to remember the federal government won't pay for everything. They have very strict caps on what they will grant, so we do have to live under those rules."

Diamond acknowledged the program needed to get more payments out but said there was an extensive process in distributing the money, citing the federal government's strict requirements and inspection system in place to prevent fraud. 

However, Diamond said New York Rising "will be making many more payments in the coming weeks."

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