UPDATED: Thousands of Sandy victims may face end of FEMA rental help

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News,Mark Tapscott,Watchdog

Thousands of Hurricane Sandy victims in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island who have received more than $320 million in direct temporary financial assistance for hotel or shelter rental assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency may be cut off tomorrow.

Dec. 13 is the day such assistance expires, but no responses have been offered to this newspaper's repeated requests to the FEMA media relations office for answers to such questions as whether recipients can apply for additional assistance, or if the December 13 expiration date remains in effect.

More than a month ago, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told reporters on a telephone conference call that his agency had provided an estimated $320 million in direct financial assistance to aid storm victims in finding temporary shelter. But Fugate was unable then to provide an estimate of how many individuals had been received such assistance.

"We have to get that. I don't have that in front of me" Fugate said.

On Monday, FEMA spokesman Carter Langston promised a response to The Examiner's questions about the status of the assistance, but that information has yet to be provided.

Earlier this week, the Washington Free Beacon quoted residents in New York and New Jersey, as well as voluntary aid providers, saying many victims of the storm remain in great distress, lacking adequate food, shelter and clothing.

"In the Red Hook community of Brooklyn, N.Y., many residents are still living in their unheated, powerless homes in freezing temperatures. Help from the government for residents has not come," the Free Beacon's Mary Lou Byrd reported.

"One victim from the Midland Beach section of Staten Island is living out of his car, going from one house to another each day in search of a warm bed. Dozens of residents are living in their sewer-flooded homes without heat or power in Gerritsen Beach," she said.

"Some people are camping in their homes," Kirby Desmarais told Byrd. Desmarais is a volunteer coordinator for Red Hook Volunteers, which is affiliated with the Red Hook Coalition. Desmarais was unable to say exactly how many Red Hook residents still lack power or heat, but insisted that it is "a lot," according to WFB's Byrd.

When Byrd asked Desmarais about the government's response to the hurricane, she said that it is a "hard question to answer. ... We had no help for 12 days. The Red Cross and the National Guard, they came too late to help." Go here for the full WFB report.

The Examiner has previously reported that FEMA officials were auctioning temporary housing units - aka mobil homes or trailers - that could have been used by Sandy victims even as the hurricane was being dubbed "Frankenstorm" and predicted by the National Weather Service to be headed toward the New York metropolitan area.

The Examiner has also reported that FEMA has spent nearly half a billion dollars since 2007 buying temporary trailers from an Indiana firm - TL Industries - despite repeated warnings from government and private sector inspectors of shoddy work by the company.

Last week, Fox News quoted anonymous FEMA employees saying they were told to hurry to the Sandy disaster area, but when they arrived, they were told to "go sight-seeing" for four days.

UPDATE: Assistance extended for New York residents

Dan Watson, a FEMA spokesman, apologized for the delay in responding to inquiries about the temporary assistance. The December deadline has been extended by FEMA to Jan. 14, 2013, for New York residents, at the request of state officials. No word was offered regarding extensions for residents affected by Hurricane Sandy in other states, most notably New Jersey.

Watson also pointed out that FEMA's web site includes a running count of the number of approved applications for the agency's assistance and the total amount of dollars involved. That data, however, does not disinguish between assistance provided under the program referenced by FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate in his Nov. 8 telephone conference and other assistance programs.

Mark Tapscott is executive editor of The Washington Examiner.

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