Flood victims remain in need of aid

By Darryl Holliday

Despite nearly $300 million in federal aid, some Chicago residents are still in need of relief after floods turned parts of the city’s West Side into an official disaster area during the summer.

Nearly a month after a state of emergency was declared in suburban Westchester, Ill., a declaration from President Barack Obama on Aug. 19 made federal funding for recovery efforts available to residents in Cook, Carroll, DuPage, Jo Daviess, Ogle, Stephenson and Winnebago counties.

Since the July 24 flooding, those seven counties have generated more than 130,000 applications seeking assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The vast majority of these applications came from Cook County.

According to FEMA, the flood was larger than most people think. By October, thousands of city residents were lining up at a Department of Human Services office in Melrose Park, Ill., to apply for food aid. The disaster caused widespread power outages and millions of dollars in personal property damage across the seven counties.

The deadline to request FEMA assisstance was extended to Nov. 17 because of the large number of residents still applying for federal relief.

“I think some of the unmet needs are due to the fact that a number of people who were victims, and received assistance, didn’t really get enough to bring their life back to what it was,” said Virgil Crawford, director of community organizing and development at the Westside Health Authority in the Austin neighborhood. “There are some people who were victims [who] basically didn’t get anything—those are some of the extreme kinds of situations we’re observing in regards to residents.”

Though Crawford and his family received approximately 2 feet of water in their basement, other homes in the area had up to 5 feet, according to Crawford.

Crawford estimates the minimum damage done to his home, in the 1800 block South 7th Ave., is more than $15,000. As of now, he has received approximately $3,200 in aid, but he and other residents say they need more money.

According to Crawford, many residents didn’t realize the extent of the damage to their homes until weeks and months after the flood. The trauma of loss affected residents who felt they were qualified—and received nothing—as well as people who felt they should have gotten more.

When denied, applicants are able to appeal FEMA’s decision up to two times. Flood victims are encouraged to reapply when they have remaining unpaid disaster expenses.

Crawford, for one, plans to do exactly that.

Many flood victims, including Crawford, are quick to note FEMA has done a great deal to help those affected.

“I wouldn’t say [every individual] got exactly what they need, but they got the best response and the quickest response from FEMA I ever heard of or have been involved with,” said Illinois Rep. Danny Davis, whose North Austin home was also damaged by the flood.

As with many disasters, some residents were more fortunate than others.

“There were some people who were living in basements as their primary living spaces,” Crawford said. “This flood caused some people to lose their homes.”

Wanda Hopkins, a resident of North Austin, is one of those people.

“I am still out of my home,” Hopkins said.

According to Hopkins, her 80-year-old mother was denied FEMA assistance and instead given a Small Business Administration loan. Hopkins lived in the basement of her mother’s home and cannot return because of the severity of damage.

“They’ve taken us through every hoop you can jump through to give her this money … we have not received money to fix the basement as of today, [Nov. 2],”

Hopkins said.

SBA loans are an important part of applying for FEMA disaster grants, according to FEMA.

Though individuals are not required to apply for an SBA loan, applicants must complete a loan application, if issued one, in order to apply for aid covering homes and personal property. Disaster assistance loans from the SBA are not just for businesses but are commonly used by FEMA for homeowners during emergencies.

Despite some dissatisfaction with the progress of relief, establishment of several disaster recovery centers has been vital to residents’ awareness and understanding of the aid process. Many residents had been confused regarding their eligibility, as well as how to go about receiving aid through the process required to obtain it.

According to Richard Gifford, spokesman for FEMA, the current relief effort, including loans and grants, is the largest individual assistance disaster in Illinois history. The agency was still receiving, on average, 400–500 new registrations per day as of Nov. 3.

“We’re asking people not to prejudge themselves,” said Gifford, noting FEMA encourages anyone in need of aid to apply. “Don’t feel that you don’t qualify. Let FEMA come out and determine if you qualify or not.”

Though progress has been made, challenges still remain, according to Davis.

Along with local municipalities that exhausted funds during the disaster, an economy that exacerbates the problem has made it more difficult for the city to cope with emergencies.

Many West Side residents have welcomed FEMA’s deadline extension.

“There was a lot of trauma during that period—things had built up,” Crawford said. “If there had not been an extension, a lot of people would not have been able to sit down and look at what had really happened to them.”