Federal aid comes to Coney Island

Federal aid comes to Coney Island
Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

Brooklynites suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy are flocking to the neighborhood hardest hit by the storm — Coney Island.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration have set up a center at MCU Park on Surf Avenue and is recommending that anyone who sustained damage in the storm come by to see if they qualify for assistance.

“It’s important for people register with us,” said Ken Higginbotham, an agency spokesman, who’s been deployed to 83 disasters over the years. “We don’t want people to pre-disqualify themselves.”
But some say the agency’s help fell far short of what they needed.

Surf Avenue deli owner George Fox said his store suffered tens of thousands of dollars in damage, but all the government offered him was a few high-interest loans.

“If I needed a loan I can go to a bank,” Fox said. “It seems like they’re running a business.”

A Small Business Administration spokeswoman confirmed that the agency only provides loans, not grants — but said that states had found a way to offer grants to businesses in the past.

More than 25 federal employees are providing hurricane victims with information about emergency relief and federal assistance programs, said Higginbotham, who is predicting a lengthy recovery effort for those in Sandy-scarred low lying neighborhoods, which include Seagate, Manhattan Beach, Red Hook, and Brighton Beach.

FEMA set up its first center in the city in Coney Island on Friday.
Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

Many residents will be able to apply for taxpayer-funded financial assistance so they can get temporary housing, repair their homes, or purchase a new home.

Small businesses can borrow up to $2 million from the government through Small Business Administration disaster loans.

So far, the lines of people needing assistance hasn’t ebbed, Higginbotham says.

“There have been literally hundreds of people that have stopped by here since we opened on Friday,” he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has a lot of company in Coney Island these days. The National Guard is currently doing door-to-door sweeps of the area and are bringing food and other staples to neighborhoods where supermarkets remain closed.

Con Edison has also begun a program that will reimburse residents who lost a refrigerator’s worth of food when the power went out and refused to come back on for more than 12 hours.

—with Will Bredderman

George Fox said that after visiting the FEMA center he learned how to apply for assistance, but that he thought it didn’t go far enough.
Photo by Arthur De Gaeta