The City of New York has launched a program that will take inventory over the next eight weeks of the short and long-term needs of undocumented immigrants impacted by Hurricane Sandy, Commissioner Fatima Shama of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs announced.
Shama said that starting this week, 24 or more outreach workers will be deployed to canvas affected areas in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island and assess the recovery situation for an estimated 6,000 households she believes are not ineligible for federal FEMA aid or have not applied.
“Our effort is really focused in understanding the fact that there are homes and families in the shadows,” Shama said at a press conference with members of the community and ethnic media held at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism last Thursday, Jan. 10. “This is really about how do we get to those folks that are really fearful of talking.”
At stake are millions of dollars in federal, state, city and private money that will be poured into affected communities over the next few years.
“We are competing for resources and… so I am going to fight for the money for our communities,” said Shama, “but I need to show what our communities really need.”
The commissioner said that the city is aware that immigrant New Yorkers affected by Sandy are still facing daunting challenges in terms of housing, health, their children’s education and covering basic expenses.
“We know that many have been unable, for lots of reasons, to come forward for aid,” she said. “We actually know that many have and now are getting denials from FEMA. We know that people may be living in homes that need remediation, have mold, but more than anything we actually are hearing this anecdotally… We actually need to know the facts.”
Funded by the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, the canvassing will be coordinated by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, a veteran social service organization, who will work with community-based non-profits in the affected neighborhoods to oversee outreach workers who know the communities and can speak to the immigrants in their native languages.
The commissioner particularly stressed the need for people who have not applied for federal disaster assistance to do so before the Jan. 28 deadline. Immigrant families where at least one person has a social security number are eligible to apply. The city is setting up legal help to handle FEMA denials to make sure they were appropriately decided, she said.
A December report by the non-profit Make the Road New York, titled “Unmet Needs: Superstorm Sandy and Immigrant Communities in the Metro New York Area,” surveyed fast-growing immigrant areas in Staten Island and Long Island, and found that in the aftermath of the storm, undocumented immigrants and their U.S. citizen children are facing the “greatest hurdles.”
According to the report: “They are barred from receiving cash assistance from FEMA or unemployment benefit. Some who may be eligible for disaster benefits from FEMA because their children are U.S. citizens, are afraid to come forward and apply for fear of deportation or reprisal.”
Asked about undocumented immigrants’ fears of sharing information, Shama offered assurances.
“We have a commitment to ensuring confidentiality of every single New Yorker’s information including immigration status. This information is not being shared with anyone,” she stressed. “We don’t want people to be afraid of telling us information”
The community-based groups tapped to assist the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies are COPO and the Shorefront YM-YWHA in Coney Island; the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families and the Queens Congregations United for Action in the Rockaways; and El Centro del Inmigrante and Project Hospitality in Staten Island.
The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs is already working with the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, which has given $1.2 million specifically for immigrant households who are not eligible for any other forms of aid, said Shama.